This is another post in the series Coaching to Core Ideals.
The IDEAL LEADER is 1) Visionary, 2) Authentic, 3) Disciplined, 4) Accessible, and 5) a Strategic Learner. See the Coaching to Core Ideals post to get a quick overview and context for the series. We are going to break each sub-topic down over the next few weeks.
The IDEAL LEADER is a STRATEGIC LEARNER.
- Thinking their business “ahead” of the game and also their own skills and awareness
- Networks within the industry and the company to gain important perspectives and knowledge to make decisions
Indeed some leaders start out early in their career open and excited to learn and then over time they become stale and set in their ways. Being a game changer is not easy for even the very best leaders. It can be a very challenging thing in business environments to get people to be proactive in skill development. You can make requests as a leader and if those you depend upon to implement don’t understand the “why”… it is important they will resist changing.
My first leadership coach instilled in me the value of being aware of my thoughts and being a game changer. He would constantly challenge my perspectives and story about what was important and were my interpretations of what was going on around me correct. Out of this learning I began to be less “certain” about my own “certainty”. In other words, I hold onto to my truth and assertions with a softer grip…and even more so as I age, mature, and grow as an adult learner.
Thinking ahead is using the past wisdom to create a future with the new knowledge and understanding acquired in the present moment. As you may have ascertained by now my posts are not about grabbing ideas from popular books or catchy themes, but rather putting meat on the bone of coaching and being coached as a leader. Your skills, your growth, and your awareness of your perspective have a direct impact on the success of business results. Learner and Leader are synonymous.
A leader brings perspective that helps make the vision become reality through business results. Business success today has everything to do with what took place much earlier in the lifecycle of planning and working. My experience in a hyper growth sales environment taught me the critical value of sound strategy…backed by a passionate vision for the future. When things are moving quickly you need a compass guide. I learned very quickly that while the team I was responsible for focused on implementing against our current plan; it was my job to keep the agreed upon business objectives and progress in perspective of the longer view. That’s what a leader must do consistently.
Thinking “the business” ahead is about leading change AND casting a vision that not only stretches those you are leading, but you as well. You must coach leaders to be out in front of their constituents “cutting brush” for the next path. Scouting “new ground” so-to-speak is where many organizations fail to transition their leaders and they remain stuck in a reactive mode. Reactive mode is really about being stuck as a learner or not being a learning organization. How an organization approaches learning and training indicates the strength and potency of their vision.
In order to think the business ahead you must value the time and space to actually ponder, plan, assess, and learn. It goes against our very nature to stop and think things through rather than just jumping in the pool only to find out later we forgot to fill it with water first. Abraham Lincoln said, “If I had 8 hours to cut down a tree I would spend 6 hours sharpening my saw”. Everyone gets the logic in this, BUT it is easier to espouse than to actually put into action. Especially when you are seeing the future that others just can’t or don’t want to admit to be true. We bank on wishes instead of intentions for our future…and therein lies the dilemma of trust.
Trust in leaving the immediate and critical objectives of the present moment in the hands of well skilled “others”… IS the definition of delegation. Yet if I didn’t take the time to build the skills needed I feel challenged to delegate. “You are going to have to serve somebody”, as Bob Dylan’s lyrics proclaim. Either you react or pro-act. Changing ahead of time requires a strong sense of trust in your own ability to make good grounded decisions and speculate based on what you learn. Your ability to learn and think ahead of the game is a competitive advantage and a cultural tenet for great businesses and organizations. Once you get this rolling it is leadership euphoria.
Knowing when the next business chapter and transition is going to be arriving and preparing for it requires a learner’s mind. I coach leader’s to grow the skills they need tomorrow right now today. Because tomorrow never comes, when it arrives it IS today. So much of what we think is important just isn’t so. It’s not…wake up and be honest with yourself. You have no right as a leader to squander the gifts and talents you’ve been entrusted with let alone the people (and their families) that depend on you.
In summary, your ability to think the business and your skills ahead is in direct relationship with you understanding what you are committed to being for your organization. I can’t tell you how many organizations know that training and development is key to the future success of their people and organization’s results. Even when budget is not the issue, taking the “6 hours” needed to sharpen the saw is devalued. Leaders will feign dedication and let their organization off the hook. It is never just about money. It is about building into yourself and others the necessary skills need to make your future happen the way you want it to. Think about the story of Noah in the old testament. No better metaphor for listening to the future and taking care of it before it arrived.
I think this poem I’ve written some years back may speak to the essence of this core value for leaders.
Thoughts on Growth
By Mark Uhlenberg
Growth…it hurts to grow. Growing pains…they say.
The pain of growth comes with so much stress and strain. We resist.
Even so, like the strongest of steel your own metal is tempered.
The very metal of your own soul and being,
The emergent you is refined and the unnecessary left behind.
Now here you come! Into the core of your life,
Cutting cleaner, sharper, and more decisively through all the chaos of transformation.
You become a transformer and not a resistor…a true “being”,
Able to change, maneuver, and create peace through the myriad of choices.
You are leaving a good, strong, and well-marked path.
Your journey through life now illuminated,
And all that seek you can find you at the “cutting edge” of your life breaking into a clearing.
You are a clearing created and now prepared for all those who follow.
A voice of clarity, expectation, and generosity of spirit that brings wholeness,
An open clearing of choice… a heart born voice…
Good ground for those that are wanting and willing.
Solid ground and space for slumbering and restless souls who need a gift.
It is in this clearing where the pain of growth gives way to anticipation!
No longer asleep. No longer restless.
Now awake, alive, transforming, and transformed!
Growth is you. Embraced and created, as you will.
© The Heartwood Group, LLC 2011