People, especially people interested in leadership, want to have a plan. They are more comfortable when they can see the whole process laid out in front of them. Many people want to be able to review the first step, the next steps, the contingency plan, and the steps that will achieve the goal. They want it to be clear, understandable, and easy to remember. They do not want to feel lost.
Many of the people who come to me for help with leadership are looking for exactly that sort of plan. They would like me to tell them what we are going to do, then do it, then review what we have done. They want a tangible, predictable set of steps I can help them take which will turn them into great leaders. Some people will ask me about different academic programs, or about the leadership books I recommend.
Now I did go to school, for a long time, and studied law, leadership, and administration. I do read books about leadership and becoming a better leader. There are plenty of prestigious schools, and a lot of books about leadership.
The work I did in school and the books I have read were significant factors in shaping me and helping me become the leader I am today. Being analytical is one of my strengths. The path that got me ready to be a leader included a lot more than reading and studying.
While I did not necessarily appreciate it at the time, the process that got me ready to be a leader began before I went to school, before I began reading all those books. It is a process that continues today, and I hope will continue for a long time.
There are several key practices that help me get ready to be a leader each day.
Trying and Exploring
I believe in the power of trying and exploring.
One of the most dangerous aspects of American culture is our expectation and inclination to reward people for not making any mistakes. We talk about “perfection,” and we mean not making mistakes.
I believe that if leaders are not making any mistakes they are not trying very hard. We are playing it safe, not pushing against our own self-imposed boundaries and limitations. We are focused too much on the rules and not enough on the possibilities.
Of course, I write with the zeal of a recovering perfectionist. I recognize the opportunities I missed because I was not willing to explore.
I believe in the value of listening.
People are hungry for someone to listen to them. One of the most common criticisms of leaders is that we do not listen.
We are creating a society in which many people can carry their own personalized set of distractions. We choose our own music or videos, websites or friends, and we never need to really listen to anyone else.
Learning to listen has made me a better leader. Developing a practice of listening, rather than cross-examining people or thinking about what I am going to say next, gives me valuable insights that fuel the fire on my creativity.
Listening deeply is one of the most effective ways a leader shares their true self with the people around them.
Finding Someone You Can Talk to Honestly
I believe in the necessity of finding someone you can talk to honestly and regularly.
Talking with a person you trust, who has no vested interest in the results of your decisions, can give you a place to feel safe. A regular conversation with someone you can talk to, who spends most of your time together listening, is an opportunity for you to process ideas, work through challenges, sort out priorities, or review your decisions. It may be a mentor or a coach who can also give you the benefit of their own experience.
Spending regular, supportive time with a person who can ask insightful questions, help you recognize themes and mileposts in your experience, and encourage you can help you continue to grow as a leader.
We develop practices that prepare us to be leaders. We get ready to become the leaders we have the potential to become, and we get ready to practice our leadership each day.