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?

5 Important Aspects of Making a Positive First Impression

This is a guest post by Susanne Loxton. Susanne is a writer with a passion for learning and education at Aubiz. Follow her on Twitter here.

Meeting a new business contact can be nerve-wracking. Just like a first date, your first impression is of the utmost importance, as it can determine the trajectory of the arrangement. And while rehearsing what you are going to say and arguments you intend to make can be helpful, a major part of making a good first impression has to do with unspoken qualities such as body language, hygiene, and preparedness. Below you will find a few aspects that should always be at the front of your mind when you schedule a meeting.

1. Research before the meeting

Find out as much as you can about the client and company involved in the meeting. Learn about their goals, values, and interests. Use LinkedIn to get a sense of the person’s background or find common threads. Prepare some questions based on your research, and get ready to make it clear they are important to you.


“He who does not research has nothing to teach.” -Proverb

2. Keep your non-verbals in check

Your body language is capable of communicating almost as much as your actual words, so it’s important to be intentional with it. Remember to maintain good posture—no slouching! Not only will slouching communicate a lack of confidence and composure, but also it isn’t great for your back. You may have also guessed that a firm handshake is important, too. Make sure that your handshake is indeed firm, but also keep in mind that it isn’t a test of strength and should not be overly firm.


Tip: Your body language communicates as much as your words.

3. Dress appropriately

While meetings often take place outside of the office, that’s no excuse to go uber casual on the clothing front. Take some time to consider the right outfit, whether it be a full suit or something business casual. Of course, this will depend on the industry. Silicon Valley is a good example of the shift in attitudes toward dress, as jeans paired with blazers or black turtleneck sweaters grow in popularity, even among people in leadership positions. But when in doubt, dress up.


“Dressing well is a form of good manners.” -Tom Ford

4. Demonstrate that you’re listening

Leadership Lessons from Downton Abbey

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.

Lessons from Downton Abbey

After six seasons, the popular PBS series Downton Abbey has ended. As the series unfolded, we watched the characters evolve through many changes in their society and personal lives. As the characters changed and matured, there were numerous lessons and wisdom for life demonstrated in the show.

 

“Leadership through visible action is always effective.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Each of these characters also demonstrated leadership attributes that can be learned from watching them deal with the various situations that confronted them.

Here are a few of the leadership lessons exhibited by the characters:

 

Lesson from Lord Grantham: Often the ‘best man for the job’ is a woman.

 

Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham

  • No strategy will work forever. Watch for environmental and market changes and adapt.
  • Learn to delegate to those who are more suited to new endeavors. Take their advice, trust them and start small.
  • For long-term viability, a leader needs to groom successors and allow others to exercise their talent.
  • A successful leader needs to attract those with complementary skills to his/her own, then allow them to take action.
  • Often the “best man for the job” is a woman.

 

“A successful leader needs to attract those with complementary skills, then allow them to take action.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

 

Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham

  • Communication, patience and being non-judgmental are necessary to allow others to adapt to change.
  • Sometimes it is most effective to act quietly and consistently in small ways to effect change. Open confrontation elicits defensiveness in others.
  • Open acceptance and acknowledgement of others builds trust and opens communication.
  • Sometimes keeping the peace in the short term provides opportunities for change in the long term.

 

“Keep the peace in the short term to allow change in the long term.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

Mr. Carson, the Butler

  • Giving orders works in the short term but does not create lasting change or personal growth in others.
  • Be respectful of those in your charge, you may need them later to move forward.
  • Failure to acknowledge change weakens your leadership.
  • Expecting perfection limits and stifles the efforts of those around you.
  • Management by intimidation does not create loyalty.

 

“Expecting perfection limits and stifles the efforts of those around you.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

“Management by intimidation does not create loyalty.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

“Failure to acknowledge change weakens your leadership.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

Lady Mary Crawley

  • Wisdom can come from any level in the organization.
  • Arrogance does not foster collaboration, trust or effective leadership.
  • Putting others down does not build you up.
  • For continued success, a leader must acknowledge change and act accordingly.

 

“Wisdom can come from any level in the organization.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

“Putting others down does not build you up.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

Lady Edith Crawley

  • Truthfulness will always yield the best, lasting results.
  • Do not overcomplicate the situation and delay action.
  • Measured risk-taking and action builds confidence.
  • Don’t let the future be dictated by the past.

 

“Measured risk-taking and action builds confidence.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess

  • Deal with the situation, not the person. Acceptance of the person creates trust.
  • Ignoring a changing environment does not solve anything.
  • Know when to let others take the lead.
  • Sometimes a leader needs to give stern, unpopular advice.
  • Humor can reduce tension and create a more open atmosphere.

30 Leadership Lessons from my Wife

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.

Lessons Are All Around Us

Leadership lessons are all around us if we look for them. In my case, my wife is one who has shown me a lot—by simply managing her own life!

Over the years, I have observed my wife balance many competing priorities. She has managed a career with her own business, raised our children, developed friendships and run a household all while being a great wife and partner. As we progress through life together, I have noticed leadership traits that she naturally employs as an effective, successful businesswoman, mother, friend and wife.

Sometimes we get very theoretical or philosophical in describing leadership talent. We go to seminars, read books or take courses, but I have found some of the most effective lessons are very practical and are demonstrated through the actions of those around us. My wife doesn’t talk about or preach leadership—she just naturally has the qualities. It just took me a while to catch on…

Here is a brief list of the effective leadership lessons that I have observed from her in action:

5 Tips to Master the Art of Power Listening

Power Tips from Ken Abraham

What does it take to land on the New York Times Bestseller’s list nineteen times, with three books hitting the number one spot?

This is the current record of one of my friends, Ken Abraham.  Not too long ago, I sat down with Ken to ask him about his phenomenal success.  Ken’s specialty is collaborations.  He works with celebrities, politicians, sports heroes and others to tell their stories.  He writes authentically in their voice, not his own.

I have known Ken for some years and will tell you a few things that he would never say, but they are characteristics that fuel his success.

Ken is what I call a “power listener.”

Power listeners:

1. Know that it is all about you.

Too often we listen faintly as we form another question or clever comment in our mind. We wait for the person to breathe so we can get our point in. Learning to listen well, extraordinarily well, has been a long-term goal of mine. I’m not even close to attaining it. Ken is a master.

Despite Ken’s success, he is one of the most humble people I know. That humility seems to work especially well in his work because Ken is more interested in learning about you than in talking about himself.

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” –Doug Larson

 

 

2. Are able to communicate what they heard accurately.

Good communication is not about saying something. It’s not about the audience hearing it either. It’s when the listener understands your message and can repeat it back. It’s when that person understands the nuances, the emotion, and the content.

Ken’s ability to do this propels him to the top of the world’s greatest listeners.  His writing skills are amazing, but I believe it starts with his unique listening skills.  He can only capture an accurate and authentic story because of his listening mastery.

“I think part of my gift..is that I love listening.” –Eric Clapton

 

3. Stay in the present.

A good listener is not thinking about tomorrow’s to do list or yesterday’s meeting. A good listener is with you, in the moment, practicing the power of now.

When you speak with Ken, you just know he is right there. He is with you in the moment, listening and learning.

“So don’t ever worry about tomorrow. After all, tomorrow will worry about itself.” -Matt 6:34