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  • Writer's pictureShandy Welch

How to Learn Leadership Skills

As it turns out, going to class and reading a book on leadership skills will not have a significant impact on your long-term success as an inspirational leader.

As with any other skill, you need to commit to practice, collaboration, and intentionality.

Let’s use tennis as an example. I believe anyone can become a decent player, but that will never happen if they choose to sit in the stands and watch a pro give a lesson, or if they simply opt for reading a book on tennis. Yes, these actions will help develop insight and prompt ideas, but the game requires hours on the court, practicing, adjusting, practicing, and altering one small move at a time. The connection with the other players, the nuanced changes related to the unpredictable shift in weather, and the short discussions that take place after a missed shot are what slowly create the muscle memory and honed technique that, over time, become your new normal. Slowly, you become a great tennis player.

I recently attended a webinar with Vihn Giang, Mastering the Art of Conversation.  He is a powerhouse of positivity, guidance, humility, and support. While there were many phenomenal points. I wanted to share one that resonated.  

For any of us to really integrate a new skill, we need to combine both “knowledge acquisition with knowledge application.” Seminars, books, and conferences are great ways to acquire knowledge, but research will tell you that that alone will not produce significant change. It is the knowledge application: integrating the learning, practicing the skill, and socializing the concepts, that turn us into the leader we dream to be, and that others wish to follow.

Most leadership skills are not novel. You have likely heard how important it is to listen intently, show empathy and gratitude, inspire accountability… and the list goes on. So, if this is common information, why aren't all leaders knocking it out of the park? Because it is HARD! 

It is hard not to revert back to old habits. It is hard to act upon the interest of others and not yourself. It is hard not to just tell others what to do when you know you are right!

A shift in thinking takes time, practice, adjustment, and more practice, over and over again.

How to create a new skill that sticks.

  1. Learn: Focus on one skill at a time - jumping from the skill of listening to the skill of difficult conversations will only create superficial understanding and learning. Focus on one thing at a time and go deep, not wide.

  2. Apply: Have fun with the application of this skill by trying it out on low risk scenarios, many times a day.

  3. Review and reflect: Become curious as to how your new strategy is received. How did you feel? The more you practice, the easier and more natural it will become. “Practice makes permanence.” Debrief your day and integrate the learnings tomorrow.

Think about the analogy of tennis. You hit the ball, assess the outcome, adjust your stance, hit again, adjust your grip, hit again… Lean heavily on curiosity and softly on self-judgment.  

Coaching for Leaders had a great episode, featuring Mark Allen.  He discussed how people learn and retain skills. It is NOT in the classroom (10%),  but rather through the guidance of others (mentoring and coaching- 20%), combined with the application of the new practice (learning from experience- 70%).  

”Use the 70-20-10 rule to develop people. 70% of time doing experiential learning, 20% of time in coaching and mentoring, and 10% classroom instruction.“

If you want to learn to be a more effective leader:

  • Identify the skill and tactical elements(structured learning).

  • Find people (coaches and mentors) to support your growth, and challenge your perspective(learning from others).

  • Hold yourself accountable to integrate the new learning each day (learning from experience).

Slow and steady, one concept at a time. Trust the process and know you are worthy of the investment.

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