Learn to Lead

10 Aug 2020

Learn to lead: The 9 habits that will help you grow as a leader

Are leaders born or made?  While certain leadership attributes may be genetic, most of what it takes to be a leader can be learned.  But how do you do that as a leader?

In our latest article we give you 9 daily habits that will help you grow as a leader.

Nature vs nurture.  For many years there has been a debate about whether leaders are born or made.  While certain leadership attributes may be genetic, most of what it takes to be a leader can be learned.  But how do you do that as a leader?  We’ve put together a guide to  nine habits that will help you to develop your leadership skills.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR LEADERS TO DEVELOP?

Firstly, let’s consider why it is important for leaders to develop.  Like in nature, changes in circumstances and context force an organisation to adapt and learn.

However, without the luxury of millions of years of Darwinian evolution, organisations must have a more ordered process.  They must change quickly using effective leadership and learning.  If leadership is limited and leaders are not learning fast enough in changing times, then the organisation is not “change-able”.

STARTING WITH A GROWTH MINDSET

Highly successful leaders understand that success in any form is not a singular event but a process.  It is something that is cultivated over time in the things you do every day – the small habits, rituals, and practises.  The key to integrating learning into your daily practice is the understanding that learning is a habit and that habits require discipline.

So, what are some useful habits that will help you cultivate your own learning?

HABIT 1: FOCUS ON YOUR WHY

  • What do I want to achieve?
  • What is expected of me by the organisation and stakeholders?
  • How does this align to my values and what is important to me?

Practicing the habit of bringing everything back to your ‘why’ is the first step in understanding your learning and leadership goals.  Context is key.  By routinely asking yourself these questions your areas of emphasis and development can be easily identified.

 HABIT 2: CULTIVATE CURIOSITY

Make a habit of asking questions of yourself and others, and care about the answers.

While this may sound simple many leaders have already developed the habit of thinking it’s their job to have all the answers.  While it is important to share wisdom and knowledge, don’t put undue focus on this.

Approaching a topic with curiosity is about asking useful questions, being interested in others and their opinions.  Reading widely outside your discipline and seeking different perspectives on things are important tactics when learning to lead.

HABIT 3: USE A LEARNING JOURNAL

A learning journal is a simple tactic that all leaders should adopt.  Whether electronic or a simple notebook the principle is to have a clear space to write down your thoughts.

The purpose of the journal is to create the habit of reflection.  Regular but small amounts of time can work very effectively.  Start with just once a week for 20 minutes and refine from there.  Consider what’s working, what’s not, and where you have opportunities to extend.

Many leaders increase the cadence of reflection as they find it a very useful process.  Creating quiet spaces in today’s demanding high-pressure workplaces is like an oasis in the desert.

 HABIT 4: ACTIVELY SEEK FEEDBACK

Effective leaders courageously hold a mirror up to themselves, making it a habit to ask for feedback consistently and proactively.

Feedback is a gift. The neuroscience is clear; our brains are all unique.  We have our own individual perspectives on the world.  Feedback is a way that we can tap into the thoughts and feelings of others.

Embracing the habit of regularly asking for feedback creates psychological safety with your work peers.  An environment where your peers can be radically candid will dramatically accelerate your learning process.

Good leadership learners are resilient about how they deal with criticism and know that the ownership lies with them.

HABIT 5: REFLECT AND PROCESS

To turn an experience into a “learning experience” requires a leader to take the time to reflect upon what happened and process what they learned.

Developing the habit of purposeful reflection requires leaders to think critically about a situation, challenge reflexive assumptions, identify how to replicate successes and avoid mistakes and then apply their new learning in the future.

Organizations can foster this opportunity by building reflection into leadership development activities and by holding leaders accountable for taking advantage of this critical step.

Furthermore, senior leaders can reinforce the importance by modelling these behaviours and actively sharing their own learning experienced during reflection.

HABIT 6: PLAN PURPOSEFUL PRACTICE

Research has found that outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not just a result of innate talent or skill.

Deliberate practice requires leaders to think through in advance what to do, and how to get there.  It is the habit of purposefully improving the skills you already have and extending your range of capabilities.

Use repeated opportunities to practice the same task to correct mistakes.   Utilise a well-informed coach to guide you through the practice and teach you the skills needed.

HABIT 7: GET COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE

Learning involves a change in behaviour, which generally means stretching outside of your comfort zone.

Leaders must make it a habit to take some thoughtful risks and understand that failures are part of the learning process.

For leaders to continually grow and develop, they must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Realise that performance may initially dip as new behaviours are learned.

HABIT 8: LOOK AFTER YOURSELF

Tired or overwhelmed leaders don’t learn very well. Being busy and being reactive go hand in hand.

To learn optimally you need the right mindset and well- being habits. Steven Covey once said “Have you ever been so busy cutting down trees that you didn’t have time to sharpen the saw?”

Make self-care a habit and you will turn up to work as the best version of yourself.  Find out what your body and your brain need, and purposefully bring these practices to life.

HABIT 9: LEARN WITH OTHERS

Smart leaders make it a habit to utilise the experience of others.   Look for mentors who can give you insight and perspective into a variety of areas in your life and business.

Recognize that the best use of your time is to surround yourself with people who can help you learn faster. A leader who does not learn from the experiences of others will never learn any faster than what they can learn on their own.

Use these strategies:

  • Get a Mentor or engage a coach: Use a professional who will focus your learning and give you dedicated time to learn to lead.
  • Use your internal networks: Work your networks in your organisation and learn about different parts of your organisation.
  • Join or form a study or learning group:  Start sharing resources and ideas together.
  • Join a collaborative development programme:  Learn with and from others.

In a world where change happens at lightning speed it is essential for leaders to learn faster and to apply their knowledge systematically.

The best learning leaders are those that understand how to manage their own learning. Practising the habits detailed above will create a space for growth.

Be intentional with your reflection and deliberate with your practice.  Secure resources to support yourself and most importantly, seek others who will help you on your journey.

Looking for support with your leadership journey?  At Mantle, we’re committed to working together with our clients to achieve the best possible leadership development outcomes.

Get in touch for an initial, no obligation, consultation here.

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