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If It Was Easy...


... then we'd all be doing it already.

Last week I wrote about a new way to think about leadership development in Time for a New Paradigm. Four fundamentals at the core of the new approach: 1 - Develop & reward self-leadership as a foundation for leading others; 2 - Embrace leadership as a practice (vs. leadership as an activity); 3 - Accept that social media has changed everything; and 4 - Know that what got us here won't get us where we are going.

Which leads me to something that happened last week in a class I was facilitating with a group of mid-level leaders. Our focus was teamwork and collaboration, with specific attention to working on our own side of our relationships. (Relationships is the fourth key to high performing teams -- see Blog post: 4 Keys to Team Performance).

We were nearing the end of the final session and one of the participants in class asked what it all meant for the company. What we had learned seemed so simple -- it wasn't rocket-science or anything new. What were they, as leaders, expected to do?

She was right. The concepts we talked about in class were not difficult. But just because something is easy does not mean we do it with any consistency. If that were true, no one would need a 5S checklist for keeping their work space organized, not to mention an audit process to make sure the checklist is used. Keeping our work area clean and organized isn't hard, but the checklists help us get it done every day. The process helps us consistently take positive action. And when we stop using the checklist, or doing the audits, our results slide. It's the difference between having a clean and organized environment by choice -- or by chance. A solid 5S process helps us do it by choice. The simplest tasks, done well, have big impact on results.

Choosing to be a leader in your own life is not the easy road, nor the path of least resistance.

Anyone can develop self-leadership if they want to. In fact, we've been exposed to the process elements throughout our lives. Remember SMART goals? As you learn to set goals that are aligned with your purpose and consistently achieve them, you strengthen & develop your character. The goal setting process brings more of what is inside of you out. Some is good. Through goals, you learn patience, persistence, and resilience. You practice discipline and develop humility. Some is ugly. You'll face fears, character flaws, and conflicts in your values. All this and more comes from practicing a system of goal setting with relentless consistency. This is the path to self-leadership.

Because the elements of goal-setting sound simple, we tend to write them off as something we already know how to do. In training, when we talk about goals, I've seen participants roll their eyes at the thought of another conversation about goals. But I know first-hand the power of the process as a development tool -- in my own life, as well as other's I've coached who have embraced it.

It's handy to have a coach, mentor, or friend who can support you, especially when you're first getting started. I guarantee you'll want to quit. Your ego will rail at needing such a basic structure. And each week that goes by without progress on your goals will feel like another rock in your shoe. Facing the reality about ourselves can be terrifying, even ugly. You won't always like what you see or what you feel. But that is all necessary for your development.

Imagine a ladder with four rungs. As in the case with a real ladder, the rung below it must be climbed before the next one up, each rung supporting the next. In leader development, the first rung, the foundation, is Self-Love. The second is Self-Image; the third, Self-Leadership. At the top is Formal Leadership. When you work on self-leadership, you strengthen self-love and self-image. It's like a three-for-one. But to strengthen self-love, you have to also repair any damage. It's like those home improvement shows on TV. It does you no good to have a new roof if the foundation is cracked or crumbling. If you don't repair foundation problems, the cracks in the walls will keep coming back.

Believe me, I wish it was easier. I've had plenty of "ugly" to face in my own self-leadership development. Thankfully, I've had a coach to help me make the most of my learning, and a network of others using this practice to lean on for support.  Then again, in a lot of ways, the old, unstructured way was harder.  I was on my own, tripping over the same broken concrete pieces over and over again. 

Something else to consider.

Traditionally, leader training is reserved for people who are in formal leadership positions. It comes down to resources -- like time and money. We wait until a person is promoted and has had time in the new role before investing in training. We hope the individual learned something about leadership from prior supervisors and other leaders around them, and figure those first mistakes are a good foundation for training. But anyone can learn and practice self-leadership. It's a teachable, repeatable process with potential for immediate, measurable return on your investment.  

You can start right now to build a bench of future leaders. A year from now you'll wish you started today.

Same old thinking, same old results.

What are Leaders Made Of?
Time for a New Paradigm

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Tuesday, 02 June 2020