If you care about developing yourself as a leader, if you want more effective leadership skills, what should you do? What’s the best approach?
A lot of books have been written about leadership. There are hundreds in print right now. Many articles and videos are available on the topic, too. You’ll also find quite a few training programs, both online and on-site, and many are extremely well produced.
But to help you navigate through all these resources, consider this: there’s a huge difference between KNOWING something and DOING something. In the end, what you know is far less important than what you do with the knowledge. When you’re with people, are you applying what you learned? If you don’t translate knowledge into action, it’s not of much use to you.
Practically speaking, the best books, videos and training programs do a couple things. First, they present a model of effective leadership skills – they show you what you should be doing on the job. The problem is, not all of them do that. They may contain a lot of good information about leadership principles. Hopefully, the treatment is interesting. You may get some self-awareness; it’s always good to know what your strengths and weaknesses are. But what you really need to know is what you should be doing to get the best effort from your people. So ideally, you learn about a model of how to act with people. If the resource doesn’t give you this, you’re probably wasting your time with it.
But knowing what to do – having good models for effective leadership skills – is only the beginning.
A training course – even a two-week course, which is rare – isn’t enough to make you so comfortable with effective leadership skills that you wouldn’t hesitate to use them with people. The reason is that these courses have a lot of topics to cover and there’s not much time for in-class practice. It takes time to ingrain a skill to the point where you’d instinctively use it in the real world of work. That’s because it takes time for the brain cells involved in the skill to grow connections and form a network that makes the skill efficient and comfortable. You have to apply what you learned over and over again to rewire your brain for the skill. How long depends on how many opportunities you take to apply it. The idea is to make an effective leadership skill a work habit, and that could take months, or as long as a year.
That’s how you develop any habit, a skill, or a behavior pattern. There’s no shortcut. You have to do the work. And the only place this can happen is on the job.
When it comes to developing effective leadership skills, experience really is the best teacher. A smart manager takes cues from her interactions with people. For example, someone might say, “I don’t like it when you talk to me that way.” Or something might go wrong in your group. You may be trying things and they’re not working. Each of these instances is an experience from which you can learn.
So when you pick up suggestions about what to do as a leader, try them and learn from the experiences. If you do this, day after day, year after year, you’re going to be involved in the best kind of leadership development program there is.