The Daily Work of Becoming a Leader

We all know effective leaders, both the famous (like Jack Welch or Winston Churchill) and those that may have a smaller profile (think the teacher in high school who inspired everyone in the classroom to give it his or her best) . Often though, it can be hard to line up the qualities of one leader next to another and see many areas of overlap. That's because the qualities that made Henry Ford successful are not the same as what made Steve Job a great leader. Each men had very different personalities, outlooks on life and skill sets which made them different as leaders, as well. Unlike many technical skills that can be systematically taught and developed, leadership is both an art and science, which makes it difficult to quantify and teach. That’s not to say that a lot of organizations don’t give it their best shot.

Each year, organizations spend billions of dollars trying to develop their employees into leaders. Many of these programs are designed to help build leadership skills and competencies. They might include external educational programs, mentoring, coaching, webinars and elearning courses. For many companies, they work diligently to provide access to expensive resources, tools and activities with the hopes that some of it will translate to more effective employees and better business results.

However, some companies are shifting their focus to allow their internal leaders to use the situations around them every day as a method to teach leadership to their employees. They see the potential to use deliberate practice and simple tools to help keep leadership skill development "top of mind" for their people. 

Let’s take a step back and think about art. The best painters can look at the world around them, such as a street corner, an empty breakfast plate, an unmade bed, and see how that image can become a great painting. Alternately, we can think how a musician can hear sounds that many people would ignore, such as a bird singing, the roar of a windstorm or the laughter of a child, and translate that into a song. But, that way of viewing the world takes dedication, reflection and lots and lots of practice. 

As that painter or musician might constantly see how her day-to-day life as an inspiration of their art, the best leaders can look at any one of the dozens of conversations, presentations and casual moments in their everyday life as an opportunity for developing their own skills and teaching others. But, these skills only come with daily practice and keeping that approach top of mind. 

The hard part, of course, is developing the discipline to spend a little time each day to record and reflect on those moments and learning opportunities so they aren’t lost to the maelstrom of daily life.

So, I would like to offer a challenge to you. It doesn’t cost anything and it will only take a week to get started. However, you may find it to be one of the best leadership techniques ever.

  1. For one week, keep a small notepad or journal with you while you work.

  2. As leadership opportunities come up during the day, jot down the situation and how you responded or handled each one.

  3. At the end of the day, set aside a few minutes to write down what you learned. If something was positive, give yourself a pat on the back. If something was less so, write down how you could handle it differently. 

  4. At the end of the week, take about 10min to highlight those items and challenges that are reoccurring and consider ways that could address those issues [via exercises, skills and resources]

Congratulations! You just created a learning log.

This is a LEARNING SUPERPOWER. Spend a few weeks with this process and you’ll see a tremendous change over a very short time. Better yet, have your employees do this process also and spend a few moments each week or every few weeks to help them review their learning log and you find that you have an incredibly effective, low-cost leadership development tool.

To listen to our podcast that discusses this issue, go here:


NOTE: This post was inspired by Developing leaders: Turning life into learning by Julie Winkle Giulioni.