Building a Better Leader

As a father, a workplace senior manager, a church volunteer, a musician and an athlete, there are many times and places I’m called upon to lead. Sometimes I do it well, and sometimes I fall far short of what is needed.

To be completely honest, I hate the feeling of failing as a leader. Well, not so much the failing itself, but rather the part where I see afterwards what I should have done – and if someone would please give me a do-over, I wouldn’t have let folks down.

“You, like me, probably don’t know everything you need to know and would be wise to embrace that fact. If you can think for yourself while being open-minded in a clearheaded way to find out what is best for you to do, and if you can summon up the courage to do it, you will make the most of your life. Think for yourself to decide: 1) what you want, 2) what is true, and 3) what you should do to achieve #1 in light of #2… – Ray Dalio, Principles

Respecting the adage “success leaves clues”, I’m inclined to follow the advice of one of the world’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs.

What do you want?

I lead both formally and informally, intentionally and obliviously. Regardless, my leadership abilities need to improve.

  • I want to stop seeing in the rearview mirror a roadway littered with my leadership letdowns.

  • I want to lead well – daily and in all of my diverse communities and environments.

What is true?

While my friends wouldn’t really characterize me as a philosopher, I am a fairly introspective kind of guy. That said, with a little bit of extra work, I have discovered a “me” that I never really knew existed!

So, what is true? I guess I’m in an ongoing process of discovering what is true about me. If you haven’t taken a self-discovery journey, I highly recommend:

  • Strengthfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. My top five strengths are: achiever, relator, arranger, strategic, and learner. And I’ve come to agree with Tom’s statement: “What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths – and can call on the right strength at the right time.” As an achiever, I’m driven, and as a relator, I’m comfortable with openness. I guess those two items explain why I’m writing this article!

  • DISC Personality Assessment (free online at www.123test.com/disc-personality-test/). I will share my results in a future article.

However, I’ve recently come across an idea that puts my new self-awareness in an interesting context. Research by Albert Bandura, the father of social learning theory, has shown that self-assurance (labeled “self-efficacy” by cognitive psychologists), not self-awareness, is the strongest predictor of a person’s ability to set high goals, to persist in the face of obstacles, to bounce back when reversals occur, and, ultimately, to achieve the goals they set. By contrast, self-awareness has not been shown to be a predictor of any of these outcomes, and in some cases, it appears to retard them.

So, it would appear that my belief in myself, in my ability to travel this journey, is what is going to enable me to become the leader I want to be. But, how do I increase my self-efficacy?

“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.” – Daniel Letiv, neurologist quoted by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

By putting Letiv and Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule alongside Bandura’s exhortation to increase my self-efficacy, it appears that modern research supports the old saying: “practice makes perfect”.

So, what is true? My leadership ability will benefit from a whole lot of practice!

What you should do

Having come to the “need to practice” realization, I’m faced with a few thoughts.

  • Practicing while performing is really stupid.

  • Not all practice is good practice.

  • Is an effective leader simply a well-practiced leader? Or is there more to it?

In my next article, I will put together my thoughts on these three points, and will spell out how I’m planning to enhance my leadership abilities via practice.

In the meantime, drop a comment below and let me know what you’re doing to enhance your leadership abilities…

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