leadership free throws

Here’s where many leaders go wrong: they don’t acquire, practice, and develop leadership skills.

It’s been said many times before, but leadership is not about the job. At its most fundamental level, the ability to lead is the ability to influence others. Your job position or title doesn’t make you a leader – it merely gives you the formal opportunity to lead and the responsibility to lead.

Leadership isn’t a title, it’s a skill set. But, for some reason we don’t tell managers and supervisors that. We keep it a secret and they flounder either blaming themselves for not being a genetically gifted leader or they blame their team for being so stupid and difficult. Unfortunately, both approaches are just playing the victim and keeping the solution outside of the leader’s control. Effective leadership isn’t innate and it’s not something that only works with the employees we like. Effective leadership is simply a well-honed skill set.

If leadership is a skill then it is something that can be taught and improved. As with any skill, some people are probably more naturally inclined than others, but all of us can improve through practice and effort. The challenge is that we don’t. We don’t study. We don’t practice. We don’t obsess about what went right, what went wrong, and how to do it better next time. We don’t work really stinkin’ hard to get better as a leader. It seems easier not to.

Professional athletes relentlessly practice the fundamentals of their sport. Why? So in the difficult moments, they can react correctly and deliver results reflexively. They spend hours mastering the most basic skills of their sport over and over and over again. You will never hear a successful pro-athlete say, “I never practice – I know that stuff already. I just like to go out there and wing it – keeps it more natural.” But you will hear amateurs say it.

It’s the same with leadership. I’ve met plenty of leaders who seek to improve the fundamentals, who strive to find better ways to communicate, give feedback, coach, develop, hire, discipline, align the team, adapt and adjust to different personalities, influence without authority, etc. Leaders who are always looking for new ways to become even more effective.

I’ve also met plenty of leaders who say, “I already know this stuff. Why should I have to learn this touchy-feely junk?”

Guess who gets better results?

We can choose to do the work to become better leaders or we can choose to make right now as good as we are ever going to be. Do you develop the skills to get better or do you settle for getting by? Your call.

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4 comments

  1. I faciliate a lot of “touchy, feely” sessions .. or as I’ve been told, “fluff stuff”. It is the “fluff”, coaching, inspiring, hiring, etc, that helps a person move from being a boss to being a leader.

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  2. It seems like such a simple equation: work gets done by people = people create business results. The better our leadership skills, the better our people, the better the results. We say we need better results and then we choose to minimize and negate the ONE thing that can help us improve results.

    Athletes don’t think the fundamentals are beneath them. I wonder why so many managers do?

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  3. Tough to generalize, not “all” managers think fundamentals are beneath them, but the better ones certainly entertain the possibility that they may not know everything. One problem is the term “leadership” which has spawned endless training models professing the “best” way to lead. After a while, the term gets lost in the noise.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughts. I love getting the chance to think things through from another angle.

      It is interesting that us humans seem to gravitate toward the “one right solution” even though it has never existed. We do this in diet and exercise, relationships, investing, leadership, etc. We go after the “best” and then before we have that mastered, someone else proclaims to have a new best and off we go again. As near as I can tell, there are some approaches that tend to get better results than others, but almost any half-way rational approach done consistently appears to get better results than sporadic brilliance. I suspect we focus so hard on the method that we forget what we really wanted were results.

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