Long time readers know I am a fan of Peter Drucker’s short piece, Managing Oneself. It has been awhile since I have sung its praises so it is timely that a TEDx Talk by Lars Sudmann about self-leadership came across my social media feeds recently.
Actually, it was a written summary of the talk on the TED website that initially came to my attention.
One of the first things I appreciated about Sudmann’s talk was that he acknowledged that good leadership is a lot easier in theory than in practice. As a subordinate, we always have ideas running through our heads about how we would do a better job than our bosses if we were in charge. Then when we are actually put in charge, we get bogged down with all the details and demands for our time.
Sudmann talks about walking in to his first staff meeting, resolved to be an inspiring, dynamic and awesome leader only to have the conversation bogged down by a discussion of email signature files.
Where I really agree with Sudmann is his suggestion that self-reflection and introspection is one of the most important traits of a good leader. It isn’t enough to simply make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and acknowledge them, you have to be in the practice of evaluating your daily decisions and activities.
Drucker covers this in his piece too. He urges people to become aware of their strengths and what they need to become better and encourages people to share how they work best with co-workers as a way of enlisting their in providing materials and opportunities in a manner that aids your improvement.
Sudmann cites Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher recognized as one of the better Roman Emperors, who focused much of his time practicing self-leadership versus trying to lead others.
Sudmann suggests that a little self-examination can result in a realization that we share many of the traits we dislike about those we consider bad leaders. You can do the same thing with the traits you admire in others:
Every day, take 5- 10 minutes to think about the challenges you’ve recently handled and the ones you’ll soon face. While Marcus Aurelius was fond of reflecting in the evening, Sudmann likes doing this over morning coffee. Questions to pose include: “How did my leadership go yesterday? How would the leader I’d like to be have faced the challenges I faced? What about my challenges today? What could I do differently?” Write down your thoughts so you can refer back to them and learn from them.
Prioritizing issues is also an important part of leadership. If you hadn’t guessed it already, a discussion about email signatures shouldn’t occupy important staff meetings.
You should engage with 9s and 10s right away, but you’ll find that many things which shatter your calm will be of lesser importance. With anything that’s a 6 or lower, either excuse yourself physically (“I need to take a quick break; be right back”) or figuratively (“Let me take a minute to go over what you’ve said”). Then, give yourself a moment to think: “How would the leader I aspire to be handle this situation?” The answer will come to you.
There are pretty much direct parallels between strategic plans and developing leadership skills. Just as you shouldn’t put a strategic plan on a shelf after investing time in examining the state of your organization and creating a plan to guide the organization into the future, you don’t want to scrutinize your strengths and weaknesses and do nothing to address them until the next crisis or next scheduled board/supervisor evaluation.
I also see parallels between the approach Sudmann espouses and Arts Midwest’s Creating Connection initiative. (You knew I was going to tie something back to that sooner or later!) Just as building public will for arts and culture is a long term plan focused on continuous improvement and consistent messaging, so too is the process of becoming a better leader.