"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."
- President John F. Kennedy
A friend of mine shared an interesting analogy the other day that led me to think about growth and learning as a leader. It was about coasting while riding a bike. He told me that one of two things are happening when you are coasting. Either you are headed downhill, or you are losing speed – neither is a good thing as a leader. I shared this analogy with another friend, and he agreed and said, “we are like plants, we are either growing, or we are dying.” Since that analogy is a bit too morbid for me these days (I am middle-aged after all), let’s just stick with the coasting thought for this leadership post.
So are you picking up speed and heading uphill, or are you coasting as a leader? Although experts tell us that effective leaders are life-learners, they also warn that it is a normal tendency to coast when things are going well. And if you can honestly answer yes, I am coasting, how do you figure out where to improve? A little honest self-evaluation or request for feedback from friends, superiors, and subordinates can probably point us to the next opportunity for an uphill climb.
If you want to be effective and successful as a leader, you have to grow. Leadership experts Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus conducted a study of ninety top leaders in different lines of work, and discovered that the ability to develop and improve skills separates the leaders from the followers. Effective leaders are life-learners, dedicated to constantly push themselves out of their comfort zone and into new experiences and better self-awareness. However, even though the benefits are obvious, many get stuck in the pitfalls of complacency or arrogance that stagnate their ability to change and adapt.
There are many obstacles that can limit our growth as a leader, but a major blockage to personal learning is arrogance. Let’s face it, if we are gifted with leadership strengths, and have experienced a lot of success, why look for ways to grow and change. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Development and coaching experts Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger warn against this type of thinking, advising us that, “Many people who have a towering strength or lots of success get little feedback and roll along until their careers get in trouble.” This lack of feedback leads to complacency – not a good place to be as a leader.
I had an opportunity for feedback when I attended a Franklin Covey Speed of Trust training event several years ago. Part of the training package was a trust characteristics 360 degree evaluation involving my superiors, peers, and subordinates. My overall score was good, but let me tell you, several respondents provided some very honest feedback and real “opportunities for improvement.” The feedback smarted a bit at first I have to admit, but after some reflection I found their comments identified some blind spots and behaviors I needed to change quickly to be a better leader.
The honest truth is many of us fall into some level of coasting in our career. If you are coasting, consider conducting a multi-source 360 degree evaluation, there are many tools available. Or simply poll some close co-workers or friends, asking for feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. This may seem a bit unnerving, but think of the benefits! This constructive feedback can lead you to an opportunity for self-development, and kick-start your ride to achieve a new level of effectiveness as a leader.