My father was an avid golfer. He didn’t play much until later in life when his business could more or less run without him. He’d usually spend the morning scheduling all the jobs for the day. Then he’d make the rounds of the jobs making sure everyone had all the tools and supplies necessary. Then, confident that things were under control, he’d sometimes take off for an afternoon on the links. Not an everyday habit, but also not an infrequent happening.
When he and his friends got together, the conversation always turned to golf. I’d listen to detailed descriptions of each shot taken on a particular course on a maddeningly difficult hole. There’d be bantering about how someone lost a ball in the
rough. Inevitably, there would be jokes about golf. Golfers talk about golf. Golfers study golf. They take golf lessons, read about it, and watch great and not so great golfers on TV (or today, videos). More importantly, they practice almost every day and are passionate about golf.
Lately, I’ve taken up photography again. This time though, it’s all digital. When our children were young, I took lots of photos using print film and slide film. I developed some of my own black and white prints (never did get to color processing though) and took quite a few 8 mm movies.
When I get together with my friends who are also into photography, the conversation turns to the details of the latest camera developments. We discuss the latest updates to software like Lightroom or Photoshop. And we opine about which lens is best for which condition. There is no end to the detail. Photographers talk about photography. Photographers study photography. They read about and watch videos on the topic of photography. More importantly, they practice almost every day. I’ll bet that the same things are true about any topic you want to pick. Enthusiasts talk about and study their topic of interest.
For the last 15 years, I have focused on leadership. What does it take to be a leader? How does one learn about leadership? Who becomes a leader?
Here’s some of what I’ve learned. Leaders talk about leadership. They study leadership. They watch great and not so great leaders on TV and on videos. Leaders read incessantly about leadership — biographies, academic studies, latest surveys, magazine articles, military lessons learned, etc. And leaders are enthusiastic about leadership. They study their own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, a leader chooses a leader from the past and tries to emulate her or him. More often, a leader will choose several different leaders from the past and/or the present and combine the best attributes as an avatar for leadership. They aspire to reach that impossible goal created by their own avatar.
The thing about leadership is it touches all parts of our lives; even when we aren’t working in or on our business or profession. Leaders practice leadership every day, all day.
I am convinced that leadership is predominately a learned skill. Certainly, like golf, photography, or any other profession, one might or might not have the necessary natural abilities to be a leader. One may also NOT aspire to or want to be a leader. Not everyone enjoys golf or photography!
Like other professions, if you have the natural abilities and work to improve technical skills, you may well become a great leader. I have found that natural abilities are neither sufficient nor are they necessarily a requirement for leadership. Instead, one can study and become a very accomplished leader despite what some might consider a lack of natural ability.
My observation over many years of study is that most often those who fail at leadership are those who believe that they possess a natural ability to lead. And so they eschew continued learning. They possess what Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset. Poor leaders are arrogant rather than humble. Lesser leaders insist on being the smartest person in the room rather than learning from others’ experiences. They are not passionate about leadership itself, but about the aggrandizement that they believe leadership positions bring them. That type of person almost always fails any real test of leadership.
A real leader is usually chosen by others to lead. In the end, they are or become passionate about leadership. Leaders are willing to put in the hard work to continuously improve their skills. Successful leaders build high functioning teams and are continuously building other leaders.
So where are you and your leadership team on this issue? Are you developing leaders? Do you have leaders who exhibit “Humbition?” Do you insist that your leaders study their art and improve? Do your leaders have fixed or growth mindsets? Time to take stock.