Experimenting With Practical Leadership Development - 'Leadership Step by Step' Exercise 1
An essay on leadership and why we need to try something different to become better at it.
This essay is the first exercise on the 'Leadership Step by Step' book. It challenges the reader to write a personal essay on leadership and reflect on why follow the course exercises. Also, it's a way to keep me accountable and follow through with it.
If you want to be the best leader you can be you have to do something about it. I mean taking action and produce change somewhere, for the better, as leaders do. It should not surprise anyone that to become a better leader you have to practice leading, even if it's just yourself for starters.
The trap of leadership development
We all love to consume leadership stories, TED talks, books on the topic full of examples, but it's very difficult to go from that to executing on those shared lessons with just passive absorption. We don't expect guitar players to become better by just watching Led Zeppelin concerts, or god forbid, reading about those concerts. So why do we fall for the delusion that we are becoming better leaders for each new Simon Sinek talk we watch?
The alternative must be a more hands-on approach and hopefully close to deliberate practice. I never tried anything remotely close to leadership development exercises, but this book is challenging me to do it and this essay is my first attempt at it.
One thing this challenge seems to get right from the start: putting me outside of my comfort zone. I imagine most of its readers feeling the same. The challenge to commit, take ownership in developing as a leader, and publish the process feels weird. Our brains don't like to be poked that way.
We need to step out of the trap of just consuming blog articles, videos, and principles lists and feeling like we are improving and evolving, because I know from experience how comfortable that feels and how no one, ever, got better by staying inside their comfort zone.
Me becoming a better leader is worth it, though.
Leading is a precious effort. Leadership is what I miss the most when I miss something and what I feel less when I have it. This is what motivates me to become a (better) leader: to make that small difference when it matters.
I'm inspired by those leaders who get their people to achieve a common goal while having them grow as persons and/or professionals in the process. I advise you to look for these examples everywhere. Leaders go first and show it's safe. If you were paying attention you'll relish the opportunity the next time someone needs to lead the way and provide the same safety for others.
This is the great impact leaders can make. It's not just about a milestone the group achieves, but all those other milestones down the line the group will tackle as a better version of themselves. The direction leaders establish is only meaningful to people if they can see how they will be closer to where they want to be after making that voyage.
Our daily dose of self-reflection
I expect this book and exercises to provide tools for the two main components of leadership: listening and communicating. I need to improve at both, but listening is the sneaky one.
It's easier for me to communicate the grand vision and the why, finding the words before the trip to get the people ready for it, than coming up with courage and the right words once things start to go wrong. Listening is also a challenge. I need to be conscious of myself to do it actively and sometimes the act of seeking it takes the focus away from what the other person is saying.
This essay is a way to verify how much importance I put on leadership. I know from experience that once you step into the leader's shoes it's like being thrown into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim: you have to figure something out or you drown. After almost drowning once, figuratively speaking, I changed my mindset completely on how much I'm still missing to be a good leader. Recognizing my failings and weaknesses was the first step and the journey started there in a very humble place.
I want to lead in all interactions where that will benefit everyone involved. If one person, a group of people, an entire organization, have an objective in common to achieve then leadership will help every time.
Go first and show it's OK. That's what I'm trying to do.
If you enjoyed this, there are many others to come.
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