In his latest book, Tribes, author Seth Godin offers a unique perspective on leadership. His view is that leadership is an art…something to be practiced. Indeed, he says (and I paraphrase), "you can look up leadership tactics in a book but the art of leadership is something that has to be practiced."
This makes infinite sense to me. It's also answers why some professionals struggle so much with leadership. I often get the feedback that a leadership solution is something you do vs. a process you employ. Often, our clients feel that leadership is tactical when, indeed, it's much softer than that. You learn leadership just like you learn most everything else…by practicing.
This concept was driven home to me when a client called me to express his pleasure at the results of a leadership program that we are currently delivering at our Cleinman Performance Network meetings. Entitled "Lessons in Leadership from Great Films" and delivered by Professor John Clemens, Director of the Hartwick Leadership Institute, this program explores leadership lessons from a unique perspective. My client called me specifically to tell me that until he experienced this program, he had never felt that he was a leader; he thought that leadership was something that was not for him; and that he'd been struggling with a leadership issue until he learned from our program how he might address it. He learned that we are all leaders and that we can all lead…in our own way.
Leadership is like painting a picture. You never know the outcome of the colors that you slap on the canvas until you do it. And so what if the color that you obtain doesn't suit your liking. To correct, you simply step back and adjust. With oils, you paint over the problem with something new. With watercolors, you add to the colors to achieve your desired outcome. And often, the outcome you desire is not the outcome you obtain…often what you obtain is much better then what you envisioned.
Leadership is just like that. The first time you take a stab at leadership is like laying down your first oil…you just don't know what's going to happen…but you can be pretty confident that whatever happens, you'll be able to adjust. When you think of leadership as art, and your vision of your desired outcome is clear, those who are following will get behind you and help you make the necessary adjustments as you go forward.
Lose your fear of leadership through practice. Establish a desired outcome. Share it. Lay down some oil. Adjust. Have fun. Celebrate.