Aug 31, 2022
We are all exposed to leadership lessons throughout our lives, yet for most of the time we are unaware of them. When we were children, we didn’t think about what it meant to be a leader. Adults were all seen as leaders and they seemed to be unassailable authority figures whom we had to obey. In sports, maybe we were selected as the captain of the team or maybe we weren’t, but either way we didn’t think too much about what it meant to be a successful leader. At University we might have taken on a leadership role in one of the varsity clubs, but we weren’t necessarily thinking about the intricacies of leadership. We just went with what we had at that point. The exception though were those students who had decided they wanted a life in politics and so they were very keen to exert their leadership muscles to pad out their resume for future requirements.
When we hit the workforce, we entered a hierarchical world of different pay levels and designated leadership positions. As new entrants, we may have been given some basic training, but we certainly were not given leadership training, as that was thought to be too early in the piece. After toiling long and hard, we start to accumulate successes and attract greater responsibilities. At some point we will be given a supervisory role over a project or a small team and then perhaps responsibility for our section. At this point we may not receive any leadership training, even though we are now being held responsible for leading the team.
We are expected to work it out for ourselves based on self-study and combing back through our lives for examples of people who were in leadership positions. That would include family members, teachers, sports coaches, classmates, bosses, etc. We probably absorbed these influences without thought and they have planted some assumptions into our mind about what a leader is and what a leader does. We will have cobbled together a disparate, idiosyncratic form of leadership. It won’t have a formal structure and it will be missing bits all over the place.
About this time, we will start to realise that actually there is a lot more to this leadership thing than we imagined. Here is the big dividing line. Some leaders will just keep going with their trial and error, organic approach to leadership. They don’t seek a teacher to help them learn what they are missing or to uncover the best practices available for leaders. Often their firms are also unwilling to invest in them and they are just expected to work it out for themselves.
Other leaders will start looking for information on leading, reading books, watching videos, listening to podcasts etc. The amazing thing about modern business today is that there is an army of people out there putting up immense amounts of information for free, on the basis of their content marketing approach. I am a member of that content creator army too, punching out six podcasts a week on Apple Podcasts, publishing articles in Forbes and on Medium, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. I have written books on business and selling in Japan. I am currently writing one on leading in Japan. My point is there is a tremendous amount of free stuff available for any aspirant leader to absorb.
Basically there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to be thrashing around trying to work it out by themselves. Business is too complex today for that and everyone in a leadership position has to become a student of leadership. Ideally, the company will organise training for you or they will give you the money to go source it for yourself. I have been sent to Harvard, Stanford and Insead business schools for expensive executive courses and all were great experiences, for flying the plane at 30,000 feet.
What I found though is you also need practical, immediately implementable down to earth in the mud and the blood, leadership training as well. How do you get innovation, communicate, plan, handle mistakes, delegate, make decisions, do performance reviews, coach and develop your people. These are the nuts and bolts of leadership on a daily basis and we will have picked up parts of these from just observing what our bosses and other leaders do. It is so much better though to start studying about how to lead and to take courses which focus on the nuts and bolts aspects of the job.
Practical leadership courses are good because these are low on theory and high on applicability to your daily reality. I found the varsity case studies interesting, but often also difficult to apply into my daily reality. Practical leadership courses will spend more time on providing broad structures and have you fill in the blanks, as you create your own case studies based on the reality you are facing. Two people from the same firm, in the same industry will come up with entirely different content, because each is addressing their particular reality. The practical classes will also produce a lot of ideas and insights, sourced from your classmates, as you can draw on their experiences both good and bad.