No Shortcut to Success

Jim Kouzes, co-author of The Leadership Challenge, spoke to an enthusiastic audience in Cincinnati, a couple of weeks back. During his talk, he posed a question, which really got people thinking. He asked how many in the group either were – or knew of someone who was – a very good, even exceptional  athlete or musician (perhaps earning a college scholarship).  As a few hands went up, he asked when the individual took his/her first music lesson, or picked up the racket or ball for the first time. The answers ranged between 4 – 7 years old.  Jim then asked, at what age people usually get their first lesson in leadership. Common answers after some chuckling were: “when they become a supervisor,” or “probably after working a few years.”  His point was immediately made in a very real way.

Everyone nodded their heads in agreement as he described the typical years from childhood to college for these talented people as being filled with practice, personal coaching, competition, more coaching, more practice etc. Bottom line, there is no question that it takes years of focused and productive effort to develop extraordinary skills.. And the reality which struck most of us in the room, was that many in leadership positions today have picked up the instrument called leadership relatively recently. And time devoted to mastering it has been sporadic at best.

That is one similarity between being an accomplished leader and an accomplished “anything else.” You have to work at it – intentionally, and seemingly endlessly. Top-notch athletes, musicians and other specialists, practice their crafts every day. They continue to get specific coaching and take lessons. They continue to challenge themselves to keep learning and improving, in order to continuously raise their skills.

Do you intentionally practice leading every day? Do yet seek feedback and coaching every day, whether formal or not? Are you committed to a lifetime of learning, and the courage of pushing yourself forward on a regular basis?

Like many, you (and your people) may feel as if you have literally just begun the process of becoming an accomplished leader, starting perhaps just a few short years ago. No one can expect to be a great leader, while working at it for such a short time, and perhaps more importantly, without getting regular, meaningful practice. As a leader, you must stay with it. Keep learning, practicing, and accepting of coaching. Like sports or music, you cannot short cut the learning curve to greatness. Take care.

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