Stamford Leadership Professors Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus captivated me with their book “Leaders – Strategies For Taking Charge” in the nineties. For its time, it had so much depth and consideration on what leaders DO to lead well, lead consistently, and lead with longevity. One idea has stuck with me over the years as we consider growing as a leader. That one thought is: The thing that separates good leaders from great leaders is ‘the ability to acquire new skills.’
Acquiring new skills means to purposefully improve in the art and science of leadership.
Before good and great were even a book title Bennis and Nanus had identified the difference that makes the difference for leadership as learning, growing and internalising new skills. Getting better at the things that matter is a priority for leaders. William Butler Yeats, leaning on a Socrates idea, said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” In his 2013 book “Metaskills – Five Talents for the Robotic Age” Marty Neumeier skilfully invites us to adapt our innovation to a talent curve that engages feeling, seeing, dreaming, making and learning as unassailable skills no matter how technological your world is. Growth and learning are not optional for leaders.
You might be the leader but you may not be the smartest person in the room (Attribution: Andy Stanley.) That being true for many of us, here are six things that leaders do to facilitate and sustain their growth.
Growing Leaders have Ambition that drives curiosity and insight.
Motive is the game-changer to ambition. Ambition is the drive to enrol people in your quest and to enlist the support of others. Well intended leadership has a ‘fire in their bones’ and a passion for their tribe to be the best version of themselves and deliver the best contribution to the marketplace. Healthy ambition provides the energy to stay on course. And, of course, bad ambition is just, well bad.
Growing Leaders learn and grow from purposeful Activity.
My wife, Megan says “Motivation follows the action.” Leaders that grow have a conviction about the use of their time and are forensic about how they invest it. Time is our only non-renewable resource. Leaders know this and are super focused on what they ‘action’ – preferring high payoff activities and behaviours that can be leveraged for even better outcomes. Leaders invest time in BEING (inputs) and in DOING (outputs) and they do so with diligence and focus.
Growing Leaders take Responsibility for themselves and their work.
Ed Cole said, “Maturity doesn’t come with age, it comes with the acceptance of responsibility.” You can be old and not grown up and you can be grown up and not old. In teaching leadership the first thing I teach is to be “At Cause – willing to take full responsibility for my attitude, actions and outcomes.” That right there is the one thing that changes everything for every client I have ever worked with. I learnt this in my training as an Executive Coach and is grounded in Neuro Leadership.
Before you move on, repeat that definition like a mantra “I will take full responsibility for my attitude, actions and outcomes.” And again. And again. It has a powerful frame to learning and growing. Responsibility means you don’t blame, pass over or run away. It means you look the results in the eye and accept what they are is what you created. And you have the power to change the outcomes moving forward.
Growing Leaders seek Formation from success and failure.
Of all the Olympic sports the 100m sprint fascinates me the most. All the years of work down to less than ten seconds of effort. What these athletes do when no one is looking is delivered ultimately in sprints heard round the world. Leadership that develops in private is always leadership that influences in public. Of all the great leaders I have studied they have always worked harder “off the clock” in order to deliver when it matters. They have created systems and support structures around them that help them leverage their strengths and learn from their failures.
Failure, properly handled can be a profound gift to you as a leader and also the tribe you’re part of. Embrace it. Learn from it and carry it into your future with fresh resolve and deeper humility.
Growing Leadership understands the power of Perspective.
Have you ever spoken to an older leader with more experience and stories than you? The good ones seem less hurried, more at ease with ambiguity, and ok with not getting there own way. They are increasingly comfortable with paradox, and more relaxed when it comes to problem-solving and holds people’s humanity with respect and dignity. This kind of wise, sagacious leadership, has still waters that run deep.
Have you ever flown in a helicopter? Landed in a plane on a clear day? Hot air balloon maybe? The view is incredible. Up so high, seeing for as far as you can. Identifying landmarks, places of interest, the unknown and previously unrecognised. Perspective is a beautiful thing. Being able to be up high enough to see the wood and the trees. To see the long view, not just the urgent deadline. To view your own life and the lives of others with height and depth provides you with the opportunity to see WHY something is happening not just WHAT is creating the problem.
Perspective doesn’t change emergencies but it sure changes things we think are emergencies into much more manageable issues.
Growing Leadership lead with Purpose and on Purpose
Buddha is quoted as saying “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.” Your ‘why’ really does matter. It gives language to your best self and your most valuable contribution. It frames what you say yes to and what you say no to. It provides a space to make decisions, hire and fire, invest and grow, serve and give. Purpose is like oxygen, you notice it more by its absence.
Leaders grow by defining their purpose and leading consistently within that sphere.
To be a growing leader the following steps will help:
- Make a decision to grow intentionally and schedule the time to do it.
- Leverage specific formal and informal channels to get feedback on where you most need to grow.
- Clarify what success looks like in a specific area of growth.
- Locate 6 – 10 resources specifically intended to serve your growth area.
- Set a time frame within which you will internalise the resources and share them with a few trusted colleagues.
Grow well, we all need you to. Your future self-says thank you.
This is for leaders. I am for leaders.