Hal was a new leader of a team of six followers. He made a commitment to his manager to be a “learning leader” and read leadership books to improve his skills. Almost every month at team meetings, Hal included a report on his latest book and the leadership skills he wanted to put into practice. At first, the team was receptive, but after the first books a pattern emerged. Hal would talk about what he had learned and implement the new methods … until he read the newest book on his list, setting aside the focus of the previous book as yesterday’s news. The team was exasperated at Hal’s technique. of the day just to have it replaced with a newer model. Worse still, the theory stayed just that, theory. Hal evaluated himself based on his knowledge; the team evaluated him based on his behaviour. Hal eventually lost his role as team leader; all that theory never came to reality.
At the time of this writing, there are over 60,000 leadership books on Amazon. Every author (myself included) tries to put a unique twist on some aspect of leadership in hopes of attracting leaders of all stripes. Some books have been very influential (think The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), while others not so much. With so many options on the market and new ones being released all the time, a leader can be overwhelmed by the number of authors yelling at him how to be a better leader. Even if a leader narrows his reading list to a few books, he is faced with what to do with the concepts the author is selling. It may be a topic of discussion in a staff meeting or the basis of a team-building exercise in an off-site meeting. Most of the time, today’s hot concepts are still just that – concepts. Translating leadership concepts into reality that can actually grow a leader’s skills requires deliberate action.
Want to be more intentional about incorporating leadership concepts into your leadership fabric? Consider these five conclusions:
- Set expectations with yourself and with the team. – A team deserves to know what to expect from its leader, including the desire to develop leadership skills throughout the team. Make sure your team knows that you are an active learner and, in the spirit of developing skills across the team, you want to experience the concept of leadership a bit. It is particularly important that you treat leadership experiments as you would any project; have a goal, a time frame, activities, and whatever responsibilities you expect from the team and yourself.
- Learn actively, experiment selectively – I say this as a leading author: Authors are looking for provocative ideas that will put a new spin on leadership in the hope that it will catch fire and sell millions of copies. As a learning leader, it’s your job to filter out the concepts that won’t work well on your team and only use those that have a higher chance of success. For example in No rules RulesNetflix’s Reed Hastings has instilled a culture of minimalist policies that allow employees to do things that many other companies would not. A mid-level leader cannot realistically implement this concept if his organization is more policy-driven.
- Don’t let experiments get in the way of getting the job done. – At the end of the day, the team still has commitments to fulfill. Without a doubt, experimenting with leadership concepts is fine as a means of developing team skills. However, if you have team members burn the midnight oil to do their daily work, then the experiment will have a reduced chance of success. And team members are likely to resent the experiment because it creates more work. Be open to feedback from the team on the frequency of experiments and how much time team members are expected to spend.
- Post-mortem experiments – Once the experiment is complete, give an honest evaluation of the experiment; what concepts worked well, what didn’t work well, and what concepts (if any) the leader and team agree to keep practicing. It is perfectly acceptable to come to the end of an experiment and decide that neither technique will pass.
- Demonstrate adaptation – As a leader, I got very excited about a new concept of leadership only to revert to old behaviors over time. Focus on a small number of leadership improvements (between one and three) and show through action how you have incorporated the improvements. A team will follow the example of its leader. If you change, your team will change; if you go back to your old ways, the team will do the same.
There is no shortage of leadership tips and tricks that any leader willing to learn can take advantage of. Just be intentional about what you decide to take on and focus on bringing leadership concepts to life.
Watch The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People here.