This is my personal leadership essay, for the first exercise in the book, “Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow” by Joshua Spodek. This is meant to be 800 words or so of my leadership philosophy, and how I came to that philosophy.
I am following the “instructions” (or advice) in the book to do this before reading any farther. I am intrigued about what is to come. But I am grateful for the stern direction, it is forcing me to document something I have spent a long time reading about, studying, thinking about. Something I’ve tried to put into words several times, but have never felt like I was terribly successful. So hopefully this time will show progress.
I think of leadership first and foremost as a set of skills. That is what captured my attention when I first read Joshua’s material on twitter and otherwise. I feel like they are harder skills to learn in some cases than functional or technical skills, but I balance that view with a realistic perspective on how much time we actually spend learning leadership. We spend 12, 16 or more years in school learning other things; we might spend an hour a month trying to become better leaders.
I admire leaders who can tell stories, who allow their people to flourish, who teach with a seemingly endless reservoir of energy when the task is building others up.
I have always loved to teach. It gives me a sense of worth, worth that I don’t often find in other parts of my life, particularly other parts of work. I generally move quickly from success to the next “thing” – not stopping to enjoy the success. Doubling down on that, I often wallow in losses or setbacks longer than I should.
In the early years of my career, I learned from leaders who had some pretty serious flaws. One yelled at pretty much everyone below him, except those he knew were actually smarter than him. Another was too aloof and never got to really know his teams. Another was socially awkward and way too prone to be the smartest person in the room, intimidating others which often squashed their ideas, dialog, etc.
I had a great, but unconventional, leader for most of my time so far at my current company. He and I are both with the company still, in different roles. He is still a mentor, more important he is a great friend. If I hadn’t of had a great dad he would certainly be a father figure also. He taught me the value of waiting, and of thinking, and of silence, and calm reactions. I still struggle with several of those things based on my nature, but I reflect often on his teachings, which he wouldn’t have even been conscious about.
So now I only have a few hundred words left to summarize my leadership philosophy. Here goes:
- Teach your team everything you know and give them opportunities to learn way more than that. Work side by side with them so they can “see” the work develop and learn from the process.
- Give your team exciting work to do, put them in spots where the work they do can make a difference.
- Acknowledge those around you, and be honest with them.
- Tell those around you what is going on, and the role they play in the team’s success.
I get in my own way when I do things that inhibit the ability to fulfill this philosophy. Most leaders have a different leadership philosophy and do different things that get in the way of that philosophy. In poker we would call these “leaks” in our game. In golf, we talk about movements that drain power, like a flying elbow or not getting our weight through the swing. My flying elbow in leadership is things like impatience, lack of self-control, and not listening enough. We all have them; will we work on them? I try to prove to myself every day that I will work on them. That I will become a better leader and live up to my own leadership philosophy. I try to ensure those around me know I am working diligently to grow as a leader.
That is why I am reading this book and doing these lessons. Doing a course of exercises like this is valuable because it keeps leadership skills front and center. It reminds us that they are indeed skills. That we have to continually practice, learn new tricks and techniques, study.
I hope to be a better leader because of it.