Time / Practice

We are busy teaching my 17-year-old son to drive. He is still at that stage where it feels like there are too many things to master at the same time: pedals, steering, gear changes, turning corners - and of course those dreaded handbrake pull-offs - on a slope nogal. He wishes he could flick a switch – and have all these skills become second nature or ‘unconscious competence’ – available on demand. Sadly, life doesn’t work that way. Competence requires practice, and practice takes time. The good thing is that pretty much all of us can learn to drive if we work at it. And it’s the same with leadership!

Leadership is not something you either have or don’t have (although certain temperaments may appear to be more suited to it). At THINKspiration, we believe that leaders are not born, but made. Leadership is essentially all about influence; and every single one of us can develop competencies to enable us to influence others more effectively. The problem is that most of us can point to great leaders, and even quote the leaders we admire; but are we practicing what we preach? To go back to the driving analogy: we may have passed our learners’, but are we safe on the road? The various treadmills of our lives ensure that we are chasing deadlines and ticking boxes, but I wonder whether we are putting in the time required – the necessary ‘miles on the road’ - to develop into the leaders our teams need? As Stephen Covey proposes, we are so caught up in the tyranny of the urgent that we neglect the important.

I have learned (the hard way :)) the value of intentionally planning and practicing certain leadership behaviours in specific settings. As we say in our ESCAPING THE LEADERSHIP RIPTIDE Workshops: “If it’s not in the diary, it ain’t gonna happen!” There are many behaviours that I am intentional about daily. Talking about moments I am grateful for is one activity, recognizing and calling out unique strengths in people is another; and active, generative listening is a third. Left to my default settings, I would probably become careless and miss daily opportunities to practice these behaviours.

The great thing is that true leadership practice happens in the humdrum of daily life, or not at all. You will probably find it enormously helpful to schedule the practice of leadership behaviours (we call them tools) in specific settings and meetings. Think through the various scenarios and forums in which you lead, and plan what you will do – with who – and how. How about intentionally ending this week’s management meeting with a time of verbal acknowledgement or appreciation of the unique value that each member adds to the team? Or, you could plan to have one-one-one listening times with some of your department heads: What is on their minds? What is hardest for them about their role at the moment? What do they wish could be different? How could you support them? What about those on whom you rely - but who are largely invisible to you in their work? Imagine the value of an authentic, face-to-face interaction - in which you remind them of the progress they have made and their significance to the organization.

To be honest, I have never regretted taking time to reflect and strategise regarding how to work smart rather than hard; yet I have regularly kicked myself for unproductive busyness. So let’s take responsibility to grow ourselves as leaders, without expecting someone else to do it for us! Let’s prioritise the truly important tasks. Let’s learn to say no to non-essentials so that we can give our wholehearted yes to the right things. Let’s be disciplined about getting enough rest, and managing our energy levels optimally. Let’s turn the important activities into habits (you know what they say about 21 days!). If we don’t manage our time, someone else will do it for us. Frankly, there is too much at stake for us to not be practicing leadership!

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