Lessons about Learning to Lead

Greetings everyone.

I was recently thinking about how difficult it really is to learn to become a more effective leader, and was reminded about a previous learning experience, that had many parallels. It was that ordeal of learning to drive a car with a stick shift. Many of you can no doubt relate. I remember thinking, “how hard can it be – smoothly letting out one pedal, while gently pushing down on another?” Well, I learned a few rather surprising things from that experience, and they are hauntingly familiar with the challenges aspiring leaders face in their ongoing development. Following are a few of some of the most similar lessons.

  • Just because something looks easy does not mean it is.  Think about it – behaviors such as saying thank you to people, talking with them about their challenges, and providing them with some wiggle room to grow do not sound all that difficult. Yet I constantly hear aspiring leaders describe, how even apparently simple things like these are just not in their DNA. They struggle with them Like the first few times taking off in first gear, leadership progress can be surprisingly jerky, bouncy, and awkward.
  • Emotional levels can swing wildly when learning something new. I remember getting very frustrated (among other things) when I would get started smoothly in first gear on some occasions, and then stall the car on others. How in the world could that happen? My immediate response – stupid car! And as you know, it was never the car. You will have up and down emotions during your leadership journey. Some days you will go home knowing you made some headway. Other days you will get some feedback that feels like you are moving in reverse, and wonder why you should even work any further at it. The swings, frustrations and self-criticizing voices in your head are part of the process.  Realize that and move on. You will soon overcome them.
  • Improving requires practice, practice, practice. I did get better driving a stick. And I am proud to say, it did not require a new back set of tires or replacing the transmission, although at times I thought it would. The best thing you can do to continue your growth as a leader is to practice your leadership. Talk with people more. Try different ways of patting them on the back. When all else fails, give listening a chance. Every meeting you are in, or one on one conversation you have, is an opportunity to practice ways to help others become more inspired, energized and capable. Take those opportunities.
  • Know that you can improve. Although it has been years since I have driven a stick, today I do not fear getting stuck at a red light on a steep hill (the nightmare for all novice stick drivers). And I actually got to the point where I could smoothly downshift the car without even pushing in the clutch pedal. Your relationship with and leadership of others will also become more natural and effective for you. Be intentional about it, work at it, and continue to learn from it.

A couple of last notes. It is hard to envision ever mastering leadership, like you might master driving a manual transmission, using a smartphone, or playing a guitar or piano. But you can continue to get better and better. And finally, remember that you can rarely change any kind of behavior before you change your beliefs about the behavior. When you truly believe you can improve the way you lead, and believe that it is essential that you do, you will find there are a number of new possibilities and options which will work for you. Just stick with it, (no pun intended)!

Good luck to you, and lead on.

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