Learning to Lead

By: Jim Bruce
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Our Tuesday Reading today is drawn from Robert Steven Kaplan’s new book, What You Really Need to Lead.  Kaplan was recently named President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.  Previously he was the Martin Marshall Professor of Management Practice and a Senior Associate Dean at the Harvard Business School.

In a review of Kaplan’s book, Roberta Holland notes that the central theme of the book is the question of whether leadership can be taught.  Kaplan’s empathetic answer is yes – leadership is a skill not a genetic trait inherited by a lucky few. 

You just have to work at it.  Like getting in better physical condition, you have to do some things that may make you uncomfortable.  This includes keeping an up-to-date inventory of your strengths and weaknesses, seeking feedback from those around you, and asking questions.  Those of us at MOR strongly agree with Kaplan’s view here.

In his book, Kaplan lays out a three-step framework for a leader’s journey:

Adopt an owner’s mind-set.  Kaplan argues that to be an effective leader, you must begin by thinking and acting as an owner, regardless of your job title or industry.  You must maintain an unswerving focus on adding value, whether to customers or to the community.  It requires that you take responsibility for both good and bad outcomes, acting on your beliefs, and creating an environment where all the members of your team also adopt an ownership mind-set themselves.  As an owner, the leader communicates their priorities to their team and gets their alignment with those priorities.

Who I am.  You cannot lead without truly knowing and understanding who your are – your strengths and weaknesses, your passions, and your boundaries.   It requires understanding your blind spots.  Those who work with you know them.  Be open to their honest feedback.  Be courageous and ask the questions that will enable you to be better.

Tweak towards success.  Being a leader is not a one-shot deal.  It requires the leader continually analyze – the particular situation at hand, how the situation is being handled, and how the organization is responding – and tweak the approach as necessary to meet the demands of the new reality.

In his book, Kaplan writes:  “If you want to be a leader, you need to act like it today.  If you don’t want to or you’re not game to, then stop dreaming about it because you can forget it.  It would be the same way if [I said] I’d like to be a world-class athlete, but I don’t want to train.  Well, you’d laugh.  That’s stupid.  It’s exactly the same.”

Those are strong words!  Think about what you can do beginning today to step up your leadership game.  Maybe it’s asking more questions, maybe it’s reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses and acting to further develop your strengths, maybe it asking for explicit feedback.  No matter what, take some action.

Do make your week a better week perhaps by acting as an owner of your organization beginning today.

.  .  .  .    jim

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