3 Steps to Create a Powerful Leadership Learning Habit

Lightning Smart founder and specialist in leadership and coaching, Alan Miller, explains the benefits of creating a leadership learning habit for leaders, aspiring leaders and managers

Habits are key to improving, so how can you form a leadership learning habit?

We know that to learn a new language, play a musical instrument or improve our sporting prowess we have to seek advice, find a coach, find time for regular practise, set achievable improvement goals and make that activity part of our way of life.  However, when it comes to leadership, we often seem to forget these basic truths.

Even if you’ve already taken some steps forward, such as working with a leadership coach, making learning to lead a daily or weekly habit is an unbeatable way to get better at it, whether you’re at the beginning of your leadership journey, are aspiring for a leadership role or have been leading for a while but would like to brush up on your leadership skills.

Moving from doing to leading

To make the move from knowledge worker to leader is especially hard as so many of the skills needed to get you noticed are then counter-productive in leadership roles.

When I was a young accountant I was judged on what I knew. After all, I knew a lot of stuff (I’d passed all those exams for goodness’ sake). I did OK and after a while I got the news I had been hoping for:

“Alan, we’d like to promote you. Please manage a team of accountants.”
My new team sought my advice, asked me what to do and I was pleased to help them.
I knew my stuff and I enjoyed instructing and offering my knowledge. 

Time passed; more news arrived:

“Alan, we’d like to promote you again! Please lead a business unit.”
My new team waited expectantly and I confidently told them what to do. After all, this was my proven route to success.

A little while later:

“Alan, we’d like to talk to you about your 360° feedback.”
Apparently, I didn’t know as much as I had thought.

That moment, now a long time ago, was the catalyst for a fascination with leadership that has endured for 30+ years.

OK, so what does it mean to be a good leader and how can you learn to lead well?

I’m still learning every day but here are some conclusions I’ve come to so far:

  • Being a good leader means applying leadership skills. It isn’t about luck or natural talent.
  • These skills can be learned by anyone.
  • Learning to lead requires regular and focused attention – little and often is key.
  • Targets and measures can be applied to leadership skills.
  • There is a huge volume of ‘leadership stuff’ out there and no one person knows it all.
  • Support from expert coaches is massively useful when you get stuck.

3 steps to forming a leadership habit

So here is my three-step process to help you form an effective leadership habit.

1. Pick a model:

Read up on a few well-regarded ‘leadership models’ and pick one you like. Ideally it will have some simple graphics or mnemonics, as I’d recommend memorising it. If it’s too complicated to remember then find a simpler one.

2. Set your leadership mindset:

  • Be happy to be humble
  • Learn to listen and listen to learn
  • Show compassion to yourself and your team

3. Develop your leadership habit:

  • Find a prompt: What is your trigger for spending 20 minutes a week thinking deeply about leadership?
  • Enjoy your thinking time. It shouldn’t be a chore, so make sure you find input that stimulates you and leaves you wanting more.
  • Use your model. Bring it to the front of your mind at leadership moments and be prepared to adapt it as you receive new inputs or have new experiences.
  • Practise leadership as a deliberate activity.  Try things out and take time to reflect.
  • Set measures and goals for your leadership skills.  It’s great to know you’re improving.
  • Enjoy your leadership journey!

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