Lesson in Leadership

Leadership Caffeine™—It’s All Practice

Source | Management Excellence : By Art Petty

Developing as a leader is a process punctuated by occasional events that test our progression and our character.

Everything else is just practice.

I had an interesting discussion with a long retired former executive just a few months before his passing. You would have to read a mountain of leadership books to soak up the wisdom he shared during our brief discussion. While my memory and notes are imperfect, I attempt to capture his points below.

The backstory on my relationship with this executive is that I had the good fortune very early in my career to work in his organization. The collective memory of those who worked with him is that he was one of those individuals who seemed to always understand the impact his words and actions had on others. He was deliberate in his dealings with every individual and group. He listened carefully, commented thoughtfully and was never afraid to acknowledge great ideas or that he was not certain of the answer. He used questions artfully and worked hard to dispense credit, praise and coaching. And he was approachable.Most of all, I remember how willing he was to listen and help. His help usually came in the form of questions that left one thinking and ultimately pointed to an answer.

Imagine my surprise during our last conversation when he remarked, “In my mind, there were only a few times in my career, where I actually led. Everything else was just practice.”

Naturally, I asked him what he meant by this. While I paraphrase due to an imperfect memory and difficult to decipher notes, here’s the essence of what he said:

On his role:

My job was always to bring out the best in people. I can count on one hand the number of times I had to step up and take charge. Instead, I helped people learn to think and act for themselves and with others.

On understanding what leadership is: 

We make this idea of leadership sound too hard and mystical. In my mind, it is simply about choosing people of good character, providing them with an important goal and then doing everything possible to help them reach that goal.

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