I was debriefing a client today and was so impressed with their insights and learnings about what they had done. One of the most important aspects of rapidly developing your leadership skills is to use a disciplined approach to keep your focus on practicing leadership acts. Most people cannot do this on their own and need guidance, support, encouragement and structure.
When someone is learning as much as they can, they are fully present with their action plan and have a focus on doing something every week that enables them to experience a new approach to leadership. A meaningful way to practice leadership is to plan to do something at every meeting. Think about all the meetings that people attend – there are always leadership opportunities when we are doing them. For instance, a great way to practice “inspiring and motivating others” is to find ways to discover the things that inspire and motivate your direct reports.
But if we only practice new leadership actions without reflecting on what happened, we miss a huge amount of learning. Practicing leadership is the best way to “learn” it but that practice is very shallow unless we unpack it and look deeply into what occurred and why it occurred.
Back to my client, he said that he sat down to do his reflection at the end of the week and he grabbed his journal to catch any insights he might uncover. However, like so many of us, his first thought was; “I didn’t do anything this week that gave me a new insight about how to lead others better.” Just when he was about to stop his reflection, he caught a glimpse of something he had forgotten about and then another thing jumped into his brain. “Oh yeah, I forgot about that and that was a really good learning for me. I need to reflect on that.” As he recalled the situation, he remembered what he said, what he didn’t say, how he felt, what the other person was saying, etc.
In the end he realized that he had found a better way to talk to that person and have influence with them. His energy was different; he spoke up first and made his expectations known, he was open to their ideas, but he led with his expectations, something he had not done before. By going first, he found a better way to demonstrate an ownership mindset and to demonstrate his accountability. This contributed to a different energy and he thought the relationship took a step in the direction he wanted it to go. He wanted to be seen as an equal and to be a potential owner and this interaction gave him clues about how he could shift that relationship with someone who was considered a superior. In less than 30 minutes he successfully forced his brain to review, reflect, and learn from something important.
Great leaders are great learners! They reflect and journal more about what they are doing and learn through reflection. It helps to have someone to ask you good questions and connect the dots. This is one of the main reasons good coaches make a big difference for their clients. Don’t let life go speeding past you without learning from it. Practice, reflect, and learn. It is the art of “deep practice” and it enables you to develop into an outstanding leader.