Most will start the conversation about leadership development with a long laundry list of books or good one-line mantras. My experience tells me this is a long, and probably ineffective, route to leadership.
If you want to develop as a leader, you need to lead.
But, where do you jump in? You have to find something to lead. Therein lies my second piece of advice for leadership development:
You can’t develop as a leader unless you have vision and urgency.
As a manager, I can give you a task, a department, or even a company to run; however, if you don’t make the vision your own and that idea doesn’t keep you up at night and taunt you every morning then you’re not leading.
Leadership requires on the job training.
I’ve never seen business grow aggressively without a leader that’s tormented by a vision and the urgency of realizing that vision. There is no coincidence that the two of the largest companies in the world–Apple and Facebook–are there because of passionate founders, tormented by a vision.
Jobs was, and Zuckerberg is driven by enormous vision and the urgency to make them a reality. Here are their mission statements.
- Jobs: “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”
- Zuckerberg: “To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
Notice these are not simple quarterly financial goals. These are attempts to change the world, and you can see evidence that they are achieving these monster visions.
Why are you here?
You’re apparently reading this article because you have a sense that you should improve as a leader. That’s the easy part. The real question is, ‘Why are you feeling compelled to lead?’
In my mind, that is the trigger for becoming a better leader. As I mentioned before, leadership requires a mission and on the job training.
I started my adult working, leadership life in the military. That’s probably the source of this belief that leadership comes from a place of action, not contemplation. In the military, we give 18-year-olds a deep sense of mission (most already have that, which is why they join up), understanding that failure is not an option, and then we give them the responsibility and accountability to succeed.
So, what is your mission? You must start here.
You have a secret weapon
People are inherently insecure and fearful creatures. There isn’t space in this article to philosophize on that, but I will tell you that you will always underestimate your ability. Let’s assume that you will underestimate yourself, at least by half.
Now write down that goal. The reason you started reading this article. Then let’s just double that goal. Now, you have a challenge that will stretch and grow you as a leader.
My framework for leadership growth
Here’s what you probably came for–a checklist. While I believe in this framework because it is my experience with leadership, it’s not a recipe. It’s merely a guide to challenge your self-limiting assumptions.
1. Lead from the edge. Playing it safe kills momentum.
- No one wants to follow or be involved in a rut
- Get comfortable with uncertainty
- Leadership requires confidence and flexibility
- Going after excellence is far more important than achieving perfection
2. Always be learning
- Curiosity is essential in triggering new ideas and initiatives that drive momentum
- Continually refine this learning and your thinking to produce clarity
- Always be asking: Where am I being called to stretch my leadership?
3. Build new relationships
- Look for successful people ahead of you and those with potential behind you
- Look for mentors that are many levels above you. They will challenge you.
- Look for people you can challenge. People where you see a potential.
- Lead like a farmer, not a hero
- Empty your experience and knowledge into as many people as possible
- Organize teams of people who share common interests
- Great organizations are teams of teams
- Teams create incredible capacity and energy
4. Take time to plan and review
- Improve your competence. You can always get smarter
- Strengthen your character. Moral failures kill organizations
- Learn to suffer well. No one follows a whiner
What are you going to do now?
I’d love to hear where you are leading and where you’re headed. Follow me @billrice and tell me what you’re leading.