become leadership fit

April 1, 2019

01 leadership is a skill

Leadership by itself is not a skill. It is a collection of skills. This is one reason leadership is so complex. I have worked with and coached many leaders who have been asked to develop their leadership skills. When seeking clarity about what to focus on, responses vary widely and include more tangible skills such as executive presence, strategic vision and planning, motivation, and communication, to name a few. Similarly, in workshops and practice, I have worked with groups of executives on an activity to define leadership. No two definitions are the same, and quite often the definitions within the same organization are quite different. When there are different expectations within the same organization, there may be confusion among the employees on what it means to be a leader. To begin, focus on leadership alignment over leadership development.

In my experience, there are four levels of leadership: technical, interpersonal, personal, and complex process skills. Technical includes knowledge about your domain, your business, and your industry. These are foundational and your depth of knowledge in this area is often a prerequisite for higher levels of leadership. Interpersonal skills include collaboration, conflict management, and emotional intelligence. These reflect your ability to work across organizational boundaries and with different points of view. Personal skills include executive presence, public speaking, project management, and time management. It is described as how you are showing up as a leader. Lastly, complex process skills include strategic acumen, managing change, problem solving and motivating and developing the team.

02 leadership is about you

In truth, leadership is about those you lead. It is not about everyone falling in line and adjusting to your style. Within reason, you must understand and adapt to your team’s needs and preferences.

Leadership is highly subjective. You are only as good a leader as those around you believe you to be. For example, you may believe you are a very supportive leader who is involved in the details of your employees only to find you are perceived as micro-managing. On the other hand, you may provide greater autonomy only to find that your team prefers more involvement and direction. Neither is right or wrong, but to be effective requires an understanding of their needs and the versatility to meet them. Sometimes this can be done by asking or you may have to learn through experience and feedback.

Leadership requires high emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. It is your role as a leader to set direction of the team or organization. However, truly connecting, engaging, and inspiring your team requires understanding their capabilities, interests, and what motivates them. It is your role to help them achieve their greatest potential.

03 being a great leader does not require work or planning

Leadership is a journey into self-discovery that requires regular preparation and continuous development. Great leaders make leadership look easy, but the truth is leadership is complex. To be at your best for yourself and those you lead requires planning and effort. You cannot simply show up each day and expect great results. That may work for some leaders for the short term, but it is not sustainable. Nor does it support optimal performance.

A word of caution if you are modeling other leaders. It may appear that the great ones are simply showing up each day and being great. I can assure you, the best leaders spend a considerable amount of time planning their day, week, and certainly the most significant activities. They may anticipate a range of scenarios, so they can adapt in the moment. They make it appear effortless. The casual observer to great leadership sees only the outcome and not the preparation.

Confidence and results come from preparation. For example, if you have never given a presentation to a group of senior executives in your organization, you would likely spend a reasonable amount of time ensuring your information was factually correct, that it was complete and well-organized, and you rehearsed your message. The more you prepare, the more confident you would likely be during the presentation. This applies to all aspects of your leadership performance.


04 pursuing more leadership development activities is better

More is not necessarily better. It is simply more. What is important, however, is that the leadership development activities you participate in are the right ones to give you the best results. How will you know which are the right ones? Due to an overcrowded leadership development landscape, many leaders simply do not know where to start their development journey.

To begin, never initiate any leadership development endeavor without a clear understanding of your strengths and areas of need. Otherwise, how would you know where to focus your effort? And how would you know whether you make progress? For this reason, self-awareness is a critical leadership competency—perhaps the most important one.

Remember that you cannot manage what you do not measure. You need a baseline understanding of how you are performing and top areas to focus on, and you must be open to receiving feedback. This can be accomplished through a variety of assessment techniques including self-assessments, annual performance review, and simulations. In my experience, the best results are achieved from 360/multi-rater assessments, which provide a holistic view of how you are showing up as a leader. However, you choose to assess your leadership skills, the feedback you receive should become the basis for your development plan.

05 leadership development is costly and time-consuming

For most leaders, time and resources are limited. They operate with impending deadlines, a growing number of tasks, and high expectations for results. Most leaders have very little, if any, discretionary time or resources for their development.

Leadership development need not be costly or time-consuming. Although there are some development activities that have higher costs such as courses, coaching, or simulations, there is a wide range of development activities available that are low-cost and have high impact. You just need to know where to look and how to incorporate these activities into your regular routine. Examples of such activities include job shadowing, mentoring, micro-learning, teaching others, and on-the-job experience.

Some of these may appear to be too easy and you may wonder how they can enhance your leadership capabilities. The truth is that when it comes to developing your leadership skills, what you consume matters, and you must start with intent. Know what you want to get from an activity. Further, none of these more informal approaches will be truly effective without incorporating the learning loop. The learning loop requires foundational knowledge, application, feedback, reflection, and back to application. It is all essential but due to the pace of work and expectations, reflection is often the most overlooked. This allows you to process the information to make sense of it.

There are no shortcuts to effective leadership development, rather smart investments with your time for greatest returns. The objective is to avoid a check the box or infrequent approach to your development and instead focus on activities you can easily incorporate into your regular routine.