Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow

Mastering Leadership Concepts

Learning how to lead. It’s the focus of many lectures, articles, blog posts, and books. Joshua Spodek prefers the active to the passive, teaching with exercises designed to master leadership concepts.

He recently wrote a book titled Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow that takes this teaching approach. His background includes a mix of academic and corporate experience, allowing his coaching methods to incorporate the best of both. I recently spoke with him about his new book and his approach to leadership.

 

“What holds people back isn’t not knowing what skills to have but how to get them and use them effectively.” -Joshua Spodek

 

What Holds People Back

You bristle at the question of what qualities make someone a leader. Why?

Every book and resource lists qualities of effective leadership: integrity, self-awareness, resilience, empathy, listening skills, and so on. Popular terms now include grit and hustle.

Almost everyone knows what qualities make leaders effective. What holds people back isn’t not knowing what skills to have but how to get them and use them effectively. The techniques of nearly every book, video, MOOC, and every other resource are to teach people intellectually what they need.

But intellectually knowing that self-awareness is important doesn’t increase yours. I know the principles of playing piano. But I haven’t practiced, so I can’t play. Those least self-aware know least what to do about it, despite needing it most. The same goes for any social or emotional leadership quality.

You can’t lecture someone into integrity. No amount of reading will develop grit.

To develop social and emotional skills, you need to take on social and emotional challenges. Lectures, case studies, biography, and psychology papers may be intellectually challenging, but they are socially and emotionally passive and therefore ineffective at teaching social and emotional skills.

 

“There is no glory in practice, but without practice there is no glory.” -Unknown

 

Learn How to Lead

Is that what you mean when you say that business school taught you about leadership but not how to lead?

Exactly. Business school taught me principles but gave me little practice using them. Discussing a case study of someone else’s life will teach you something. I’m not saying lectures and case studies are worthless, but they can’t substitute for facing personal challenges.

After graduation, I learned leadership skills in practice, but I doubt it was any faster than had I not learned the principles.

Going to a top-5 school didn’t help. The more elite the school, the more the professors got there through publishing or perishing, not facing social and emotional challenges.

 

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” -Vince Lombardi

 

So what’s the alternative? Skipping school?

I struggled with that question, especially after noticing how many great leaders dropped out or were kicked out of school: Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Sean Combs, Michael Dell, Elon Musk, … the list goes on.

leadrshpstepbystepI wondered: did school hurt?

Two observations resolved the situation for me: How you learn is as important as what you learn.

The first was seeing how many top actors had tremendous emotional and social skills, coming off as tremendously genuine and authentic, yet dropped out of school, often high school. I learned that they didn’t stop learning. They switched to a different style of learning.

The other was connecting with the project-based learning and teaching community. I found that their students developed leadership skills that MBAs would dream of, but without taking leadership classes.

 

How does that play out in practice?

I learned that experiential, active learning is more effective for fields like leadership that are active, social, emotional, expressive, and performance-based. Plenty of fields are like that besides leadership and acting: playing musical instruments, athletics, dance, singing, improv, the military.

In all of them we teach through practice and rehearsal. When you master the basics, you move to intermediate skills. When you master them, you move to advanced.

Only with leadership do we start with theory. Compare the quality of athletes and musicians our nation creates with the quality of our leaders, or rather people with authority.

That’s why so many great leaders emerge from sports, acting, the military, and places outside academia. Look at your page on leadership insights, http://www.skipprichard.com/leadership-insights: the first people I see are baseball player R. A. Dickey, athlete/actor Chuck Norris, and basketball player Bill Bradley.

 

Try a New Approach

Can you clarify how you teach if not traditionally?

I teach and coach by giving students and clients an integrated, comprehensive progression of exercises starting with basics and leading, with no big anxiety-causing jumps, to skills so useful and advanced that most seasoned leaders would learn from them.

The exercises have you do things with people you know on projects you care about, so you face social and emotional challenges, but in safe contexts, so you don’t risk your job to develop the skills. It’s like practicing piano alone, then doing small recitals, and so on to get to Carnegie Hall.spodek

My exercises are like scales in piano or footwork in dance. Basics are valuable at every level. Look at the top seeds at Wimbledon before finals. They practice their ground strokes. LeBron still practices layups and jump shots.

I call how I teach Method Learning, after Method Acting, which is what we call the style of learning and practice for acting, and it produces Method Leaders. It’s not just acting. All the fields I listed above use the same technique.

You develop greatness, genuineness, and authenticity the same in leadership as in any of these other fields: Practice, practice, practice!

My book has stop signs after each exercise description saying, “Put the book down. Go practice. Reading about lifting weights doesn’t make you strong.”

 

“Reading about lifting weights doesn’t make you strong.”

 

Then what’s the role of a teacher or coach for a leader?

9 Leadership Lessons from Dad

This post is in honor of Father’s Day. Father’s Day is this Sunday, June 19th.

Wisdom from Dad

How old I was, I don’t know. Probably around four or five years old, give or take, though my father will likely correct the number with his own memory of the same event. It was a typical hot summer day, and my family was enjoying a day at the beach. We were in Ocean City, New Jersey, to be specific. At that time, the beach seemed to stretch on forever, which I now realize was a function of my age more than the actual distance of the sand. We brought food to the beach, which was typical because there was no way my father would pay Boardwalk prices for anything.

As usual, I was in the water. Somehow I lost track of my brother, Jack, who was with me. When I pulled myself out, exhausted, I scanned the crowd, looking for someone I recognized. I started walking, dodging people, umbrellas, walking around towels, sunbathers, and family tents. After what seemed like a few hours, which likely meant twenty minutes, I realized I was completely, utterly lost.

No matter where I looked, I didn’t see a single person I recognized. I was just short of panic. It’s a feeling I can recall to this day. I had never been lost before, uncertain about what to do or where to go.

Then, I spotted my dad. Where I was stressed, he was as calm as could be. My heart rate may have been spiking, but not his. He was scanning the area, his eyes making a mechanical sweep of everything. As soon as I saw him, I felt a flood of relief as if one of the waves washed all of the worry away in an instant.

This is one of the first memories I have of my father, and one that’s fitting to remember on Father’s Day. A few years ago, I wrote about 9 Leadership Lessons from Mom. It was so popular that I was interviewed numerous times about my childhood. Today I want to turn that spotlight onto my dad and share some of that fatherly wisdom. Because that day on the beach, I had a realization: when I was lost, I wasn’t really on my own. Dad was looking for me. And he wouldn’t give up until he found me. Still to this day, when I hear a sermon about God leaving the flock of sheep to look for a single lost lamb (Matthew 18:12), I think of my own dad doing that very thing.

 

1. Leaders never stop learning.

My dad loves to learn. His degrees range from electrical engineering to operations research (and many others). He went to seminary and then got an MBA. Even now, he is finishing a doctorate in business. My siblings know that our family was able to “Google” something long before the search engine was even formed. We simply found Dad, inputted the question, and out would come the answer. When the internet first started, I would often find he was faster. And, when we took a family trip, we would have to stop and read every plaque and see more historical sites than anyone else I knew.

Leaders have an insatiable curiosity. The more you learn to ask questions, the more you will learn information that may change the future.

 

“Leaders have insatiable curiosity.” -Skip Prichard

 

2. Leaders serve others first.

When my wife and I were first married, we moved quite a bit. Guess who helped us move? Painted? Took down or put up wallpaper? How about fixing the leaky sinks? Inspecting the house? You’d think he was a contractor until I add that he did our taxes, analyzed the best mortgages, and told us about the history of the area.

Leaders serve others first. Leaders give freely of their time and talents.

 

“Leaders give freely of their time and talents.” -Skip Prichard

 

3. Leaders are thrifty.

That’s another way of saying my dad is uh…cheap. And you’d have to be with only a government salary to raise six kids and numerous others we would take into the family home. The lesson, though, is to look for the value in everything. Don’t overpay. Realize that we need to be good stewards of what we have. Don’t waste anything.

Leaders don’t wish for the impossible; they create results with what they have.

 

“Leaders create results with what they have, not what they wish they had.” -Skip Prichard

 

4. Leaders are not defined by a position.

Yes, he had an important job. He dutifully gave his time and talent to his employer. However, my father didn’t lead at work and then fail at home. He spent time with us. He was loyal to his family, and in particular, to my mom. None of us ever questioned his devotion. And that taught me a powerful lesson about leadership: it isn’t defined by a job.

Leadership is defined by character, not position.

Mom and Dad

“Leadership is defined by character, not position.” -Skip Prichard

 

5. Leaders appreciate the uniqueness of each individual.

My childhood home was a bit unusual. Somehow people found their way to our home when they were in trouble. If you were abused, our home was a place of refuge. We had our share of rather strange people stopping over. I never recall my father judging any of them. They were in need, and so they were welcome. And that was it.

Leaders don’t judge. Leaders appreciate each individual for who they are.

 

“Leaders appreciate each individual for who they are.” -Skip Prichard

 

6. Leaders continually raise the bar.

If I came home with a 93% on a paper, I don’t recall a celebration. Instead, I was asked what I got wrong, why, and did I understand what I did wrong. The focus wasn’t on the criticism, but on learning and on striving to be better. My parents required each of us to learn a musical instrument, too, simply because of the benefits we would accrue by doing that.

Leaders raise the bar. Leaders push those around them to reach for more.

 

“Leaders push those around them to reach for more.” -Skip Prichard

 

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7. Leaders don’t give up.

Questions to Shape Self-Improvement

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

Questions to Shape The Year Ahead

It is that time of year when many people assess the past year and make plans for the next one. Businesses develop strategies and goals, individuals write resolutions and families plan vacations. Many individual plans involve possessions, places and events.

One of the most important, but perhaps difficult, topics to assess is personal improvement. If you are happy with yourself and your current situation, everything else will seem better. Since it is sometimes more difficult to “see yourself” and develop actions for self-improvement, here is a list of questions to help identify some candidate areas for improvement.

The list covers many topics to generate ideas. I suggest that you simply read the list, make lots of notes as you go and not try to develop or prioritize actions until later. Suggestions for next steps are discussed at the end.

 

“If you are happy with yourself and current situation, everything else will seem better.”  –Bruce Rhoades

 

Questions to Ask Yourself

Learning and Growing

What new skills would I like to develop for work or for personal satisfaction?

Am I listening to different perspectives and diverse viewpoints?

What should I read to expand my horizons?

What new challenges should I undertake?

Do I have a role model to observe?

 

Appreciation and Gratitude

What am I thankful for?

Do I tell those I love that I love them?

What are my opportunities to tell others what I appreciate about them?

Do I celebrate the success and happiness of others?

How often do I praise or compliment others?

 

“Do I celebrate the success and happiness of others?” –Bruce Rhoades

 

Relationships

Am I satisfied with my relationships? Kids? Colleagues? Family?

How can I be a better partner — one that I would like to have?

Are the boundaries I have set with others the right ones?

Where should I be a more positive influence?

Are the people that demand my time the ones who I really want to use my time?

Are there relationships that I need to repair or let go?

Which relationships do I want to grow?

Do I feel and express appropriate emotion?

How and where can I be less controlling or bossy?

How can I improve my attentiveness and listening?

How do I want to be remembered?

 

“Are the boundaries I have set with others the right ones?” –Bruce Rhoades

 

Leadership

What culture do I want to create for work, family and friends?

What kind of role model am I? What attributes do I want others to emulate?

How can I bring out the best in others? At work? With family? With friends?

Are my actions consistent with my talk?

What opportunities do I have to make a difference in someone’s life?

How can I help others to grow? Who?

How can I be a better team member?

What are my opportunities to teach?

 

“What kind of role model am I?”  –Bruce Rhoades

 

Balance

Are You Drowning Your Team?

Enough.

I was enjoying a quiet walk a few years ago.  As I approached one of my neighbors’ homes, I could hear a garden hose running.  Not wanting to get wet, I crossed the street.  Glancing to my right, I could see the hose running at full strength into a large planter.

The planter was overflowing and the water draining down the side and into the driveway.  A little stream was running right down the other street.  Crossing back across the street, I thought I would turn off the hose.  Clearly someone left it on by mistake.  Only a few steps later, I saw my neighbor.

 

“Sharing too much drowns a listener, destroying opportunities for growth.” -Skip Prichard

 

“Hi.  I thought I would turn off your hose,” I said.

“Oh, I’m watering everything a lot extra today,” before adding, “We’re going away for a few weeks so I wanted to water in advance.  It’s going to be really hot this week!”

“Not sure it works that way,” I said, smiling.  “I’m happy to water everything for you,” I offered.

After he declined my offer, I shook my head and continued my walk.

At A Tipping Point: The Future of Education

Online Education is Changing the Game

Just over a year ago, I was named the fifth President & CEO of OCLC.  OCLC is a global technology company dedicated to connecting libraries in a global network to share the world’s knowledge.  Part of our not for profit mission includes a research division dedicated to original research on a wide range of topics involving education, libraries and technology.

Cathy DeRosa, Vice President for the Americas, recently released a fascinating market research report about online education entitled At A Tipping Point.  It is free and full of fascinating statistics.  And, online education will not only have implications for education.  It is already having a significant impact on corporate training.

In this brief five-minute interview, I talk with Cathy about the cost of higher education, online learning and the changes in the landscape ahead.

Here are a few facts from the research:

 

Mobile learning.  40% of adults ages 25-35 who have taken an online class have taken it on their mobile phone or tablet.

 

Fact: 40% of adults 25-35 who have taken an online class have taken it on a phone or tablet. @OCLC

 

Convenience wins.  The top benefit of online learning is convenience.  51% cited convenience compared to just 3% citing affordability.

 

Fact: 51% cite convenience as the top benefit of online learning. @OCLC

 

Satisfied learners.  91% of online learners say their goals were met.

 

Fact: 91% of online learners say their goals were met. @OCLC