Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Get Stronger as a Leader - One Area at a Time

Leaders have so much to learn. How do they get it all done?

If you're serious about developing yourself as a leader, here are three bottom-line success tips.

# 1 - Be patient. If you’re a success-oriented person and your boss gives you feedback, you’ll probably want to address all the issues immediately.

But that would be a mistake. It takes time to establish a personal strength habit or ingrain a people skill. This isn’t the kind of thing you push through the eye of the needle. Like improving any skill, it takes lots of application in the real world before it starts to feel comfortable enough for you to trust it. You may understand the concept quickly, but improved work habits don’t happen overnight.

#2 - Own your own learning. No one can make you learn. Attending a course on effective leadership skills doesn’t give you the skills you need. All an instructor can do is instruct - deliver information. It’s up to you - and no one else - to put the skills into practice.

Your ultimate training ground won't be the classroom. It'll be in the workplace. So find people around you who are willing to give you feedback - and listen to them. Put yourself in challenging situations and find people who can help you learn from your experiences. Learn to coach yourself.

#3 - Focus on one area at a time. Yes, there’s a lot to learn. But the secret is to concentrate on improving one skill or strength at a time. You may have several self-development goals. You may feel that the way to quick success is to tackle all of them at once.

But imagine that you play basketball and you belong to a league. Say your weakest area is shooting free throws. So one of your team mates comes up to you in practice and says, “You know, you don’t have your elbow in the right position.” The problem is, it feels awkward when you try to do what he says. But you try it anyway while he watches.

But then your friend says, “You also want to let your middle finger be your guide to the basket.” That seems like a basic technique, but now you’re working on two things at once, and they’re both awkward.

Sensing your desire to excel, he adds: “You're not setting yourself up for the free throw the same way each time. You gotta have a routine, man. Stroke it the same way every time.” Again, good advice! You know if you could master all these techniques, you’d make a lot more of your free throws. But it’s too much all at once! Everything feels awkward, you don’t know how to fit them together into a fluid activity, and you don’t know what to focus on.

The smart money is to focus on just one thing at a time and practice it until it starts to feel comfortable. At that point you may not have fully mastered the technique, but at least it doesn't feel awkward anymore. Then you can focus on the next thing.

If you try to implement five or six changes in your life all at once, you won’t be able to give any one thing the concentrated effort it needs. You’ll dilute your efforts, and in the end nothing much will happen. You won’t get the improvements you hope for.

It’s essential to be your own best trainer, and recognize that it’s a journey. You can develop strong people skills and strengths over time, if you apply yourself. Just remember that it’s going to take practice, practice and more practice. And above all, you’re going to have to focus.

One thing at a time — that’s where the magic is.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


Lori Meyer said...

Thank you for this concise and very helpful list of critical leadership characteristics. I've bookmarked this!

Wayne McEvilly said...

"Focus on one things at a time." Yes. This simple technique goes back to ancient times - the philosopher Patanjali wrote, in his Yoga Sutras: "eka tattva abhyAsa" ("Practice One Thing") - The beauty of such eternal verities is that they are applicable anywhere, anytime, in any situation -
Thank you for the post.

bax said...

I love the developing understanding of how dangerous multitasking can be for real quality.

One thing at a time, done well. Awesome stuff!

Kent Julian said...

Thanks for sharing this post! It really made me think (which is always a good thing, of course). Some people believe a critical success factor is the ability to multitask. I would argue, however, that multitasking is usually not a key to success and can actually lead us away from success. The reason? A divided mind usually leads to diminished performance. The best approach is to be in the moment and focus completely on a single task, one step at a time. Again, your thoughts are really making me think...good stuff, Denny!