Coaching executives and aspiring leaders across many roles, industries and geographies over many years, I’ve compiled a list of 15 exercises to help you build your leadership muscles. For each one, take a look in the mirror of how you handle it now, what’s working, and what you want to to enhance through practice. Then go for it!
1. Make sure everyone in your enterprise knows where you are all heading, has a simple road map to get there, and "gets" why your goal(s) and direction are so important to you. If your people are vague on any of these elements, they are less likely to be at their best.
2. Value and reward your people’s excellence executing and delivering results AND their excellence collaborating with colleagues and “having each others' backs.” Expecting and rewarding both tasks and relationships makes a more sustainable organization.
3. Measure, monitor, and decrease continuously the amount of resistance (time, steps, and non-value-added activities needed) to implement a good idea. This “drag coefficient” exists in all organizations of two or more people, and lessening it is an ongoing way to maintain a strong flow of good leadership.
4. Delegating with context and clear expectations makes you and your team scalable. If you’re a founder, perfectionist or do-it-yourselfer, it’s key to work extra hard to guide others to do their best for you, rather than do things your way (or worse) yourself.
5. Give all reasonable feedback, candor, suggestions, and support to your people to help them succeed. With that, when someone continues to under-perform, it’s important to help them move on. Hanging on for too long is a common and avoidable leadership error.
6. Modest failures are inevitable, particularly when innovating. It’s important not to hide from them or shift blame, but to claim and transcend them, and to encourage the same from your team.
7. Innovation isn’t in a method, process, book, or workshop. It’s in your imagination and courage not to stick with the status quo, but challenge yourself and your team to do, build, and/or be something novel.
8. Making positive (and not negative) impacts on individuals, communities, natural resources, clients/customers/constituents, and economics is a sustainable way to lead.
9. Noticing what you’re avoiding or putting off/procrastinating is an underused source of self-correcting leadership. Periodically (don’t put it off) make a list of these things, and look for a pattern. You will likely encounter an important insight.
10. Candid feedback given and received is the breakfast of champions. Be candid with others, and ask for the same for yourself. Honesty is the key ingredient for sustaining success when things are going well, and the fuel for change when things are in trouble.
11. Positional authority—like that of a leader—can shut people down, and make them less likely to share ideas and suggestions. It’s important to create extra “permission” for people to share their thoughts and questions. In fact, the most junior people—those often doing the actual work—can see most clearly things that need change. Make it easy for them to connect to you.
12. Read the room, tailor your communication to your audience, and monitor your “transmit-to-receive” ratio. That is, how much of the time you’re with others you are talking versus listening. A good formula is that it should be 20 / 80 – that is, 80% asking/listening, and 20% talking. Even if you are at 50/50, you’re talking too much to lead effectively.
13. Shift unproductive conversations into the future to allow them to lead to useful solutions. “This is an important discussion – and now what are we going to do going forward?” is a great way to turn a frustrating go-nowhere discussion or meeting into a valuable outcome.
14. If your calendar is booked morning till evening every day, and you don’t have process-time to yourself, then you’re not leading effectively and sustainably. I ask my clients to block a few hours a few times a week, or 30 minutes per day, during which you’re not returning emails, IM-ing, doing phone calls. Simply sit and think, and maybe make a few notes.
15. Every person on your team who “cares” is worth their weight in gold. Hire and retain people who are fired up, and care about their own work. Diligence and willingness to learn are harder to find, and, when absent, more valuable than experience and credentials.
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As you consider these 15 sets of leadership "muscles," think about your own enterprise, leadership approach, and your team. What could use some additional work outs this week? This month? This year?