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The Internet is full of leadership articles with titles like these:
“5 Tips to Become a Better Speaker”
“4 Ways to Make Leadership Meetings More Efficient”
Some of my own writings have these titles. But I used to dislike these “lists” of tips, because I felt they were shortcuts that avoided the deeper “heart” issues of leadership, like I wrote about in my last post.
But I changed my mind. I was wrong. At least partially.
I still feel that leadership must be about more than a “quick fix” mentality. But I’ve learned that leadership is just as much about action and practicing good habits as it is about understanding things in our hearts.
For example, I grew up as a fairly private person. I used to write in my journal a lot, but found it hard to share my deepest thoughts or feelings with other people. Over the years, I’ve learned to share a lot more with people, both in relationships and through my writing … as hopefully you can tell. But this took countless repetitions of my putting myself out there, even when it was uncomfortable or scary to do so. Now it feels a lot more natural and easy to do, but it’s taken a ton of practice over the years!
Or take my friend. Just the other week, he told me that his brother decided after a health crisis that life was too short to not tell people how much he loved them. Although nobody in his family was comfortable doing this, he went out on a limb and just started telling them, “I love you” over and over. Amazingly, it opened up the doors and now other people in his family are more expressive in their affection with one another.
Say the right things enough times, and it can actually start to transform you … on a heart level. Act according to healthy patterns, and it starts to feel natural and right.
If I had to give a title to this kind of learning, I’d probably call it “practice.” Both “understanding” and “practice” are vital to leadership.
The real danger? I think it’s when we try to have one without the other. For instance, if we only memorize “rote” lists of leadership tips, without ever getting to the deeper questions and heart issues, we will miss the key to lasting change and transformation. But likewise, if we only understand leadership on a conceptual level, but don’t relentlessly seek to apply it in multiple practical ways, how can we truly learn and grow?
I’ve also learned that growth can happen in either order. Some people only apply things in action after they understand. But I’d argue that the majority of people solidify their understanding of leadership as they try and put things into practice. We’re always figuring things out and refining our picture of leadership as we go. I know I am.
Sometimes it takes fifteen applications of “giving and receiving feedback” before we start to understand the “heart of why we need feedback.” Sometimes it’s only after we try doing work with ethnic leaders, before we gain an appreciation for why diversity is so important in this world. None of us has the full picture to start with.
So let’s not settle for shortcuts in our leadership, but we also shouldn’t wait until we have perfect understanding before we put healthy leadership into practice. It won’t always feel comfortable to do the things we know we should, at least in the beginning. But the more we do them, the easier and more natural they will get.
Thank you for reading and practicing great leadership!