Leadership Begins Within (Tip of the Month)

March 24, 2012

I like lists and projects. I’m not sure why, except that the existence of both usually helps me feel as if I’m making progress–simply because they exist. However, I’m constantly reminded that busyness and progress are not synonymous and that some things–especially important things–don’t have projected completion dates. Leadership development is one of those things.

Any self-improvement effort has to start with the understanding that more likely than not, what you are embarking on is a continuous journey. Goals and milestones are only truly meaningful if the desired change sticks (have you ever been on a diet?). Leadership is no exception. On this journey, you have to have mile markers (progress) and “photo opportunities” along the way, but for the most part, you should embrace it as a part of the life journey and therefore, the daily routine. That mindset should take some of the performance pressure off–leadership is so much more about “being” than “doing”.

So, how does this work? Well, everyone is different and every leader has their own style and approach to things but there are some things we can all do to prepare or “pack” for the journey. Here are a few things to take with you:

  1. Take inventory. Before you can become a better leader, you have to self-evaluate. You are uniquely you–know your strengths and weaknesses. Embrace both. This requires honesty and perhaps feedback from those you trust. Don’t let that scare you! Knowledge is the beginning of wisdom, it will be worth it.
  2. Take responsibility. Change has to be owned by the one desiring the change.   I believe the only things we can really control are (1) what we do and (2) how we respond to what happens to us. If we want to initiate change, we have be intentional and do the necessary things. If change is initiated by something or someone else, we have to learn to make the necessary adjustments.   No one can do this for us and the buck stops with the (wo)man in the mirror.
  3. Take notes. You probably know or know of several leaders you admire. You already know who your desired leadership competencies resemble. If they are available as mentors, ask for help. If you can only observe or have limited access, pay attention and ask questions as the opportunities become available (maybe you can create an opportunity–some things are that important). Read–find your favorites and start a personal library (public libraries and internet bookmarks are also great resources). What do you do with all of this great advice and information? Write it down! Until it becomes a part of you, you may need a reminder or encouragement when things get tough. Writing it down is good reinforcement and will help you stay accountable.   I highly recommend Leadership From Ordinary to Extraordinary: The Character of a Leader by my CEO and friend, Dr Stephanie Parson. This is a great tool, with plenty of room for notes to document your journey.

Confucius said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nike completed the thought by saying “just do it.” So get packed and get started–the leadership journey begins now.

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