Joshua Spodek, author of the bestselling Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow, got his MBA at the Columbia Business School in hopes of becoming a top entrepreneur and leader. He soon realized that the degree was the start of his mission, not completion: "Business school taught me leadership principles, but implementing them after graduation felt like starting from scratch," he writes.
After school, he continued consuming books for more insight. While he did grasp new facts, he came to see that "facts are a commodity that computers handle better." Eventually, Spodek's frustrated searching made him see that he had it all wrong. Everyone did.
Spodek began to compare his field to other disciplines, such as acting and athletics, and he realized that those professions did not improve simply by sitting around and studying concepts. They learned technique, practiced diligently and then performed what they had learned in high-risk situations. "Performers in other fields aren't born masters either but learn through disciplined, dedicated and structured practice."
Spodek then set out to establish a similar method for practicing leadership. He shares his hard-won methodology in his book. Here are some of the overarching practices that Spodek believes all leaders must master to turn into top-notch performers.
1. They practice self-awareness.
People often see leaders in the context of working with others, but few realize that the first person a leader must manage is him or herself. So Spodek dedicates the book's first section to understanding oneself. From getting in touch with inner monologues to pinpointing the subtlest beliefs, Spodek gives aspiring leaders skills and experience to grasp what makes them tick. Only through self-knowledge can a leader begin to consider how to work with others who have their own internal beliefs and motivations. "Those who recognize how beliefs work and know how to use them have an advantage leading themselves and others compared to people locked into thinking that everyone sees the world in one way."
2. They practice effective communication.
Many claim that the best leaders are the best communicators, but fall short of truly uncovering what makes for strong communication. Spodek places a premium on details, noting that people hear exactly what is said, not what is meant. Beginning responses with words like "no," "but" and "however" tend to shut people down. "Negating people tends to provoke defensiveness and skepticism--the opposite of openness--to your leadership. We commonly, however unintentionally and unconsciously, respond to people starting with the words, no, but, and however... You may not think the words make that much difference or may not intend them to, but you don't get to choose how other people hear you," he writes.
3. They seek constant growth.
How can a leader grow? While acquiring more knowledge and skills in their given discipline is essential to credibility, there are other, more understated ways to improve on the personal ability to guide and coach others. Spodek challenges leaders to not only understand their core beliefs but alter them for different contexts and to even adopt beliefs that might challenge their own. He gives readers exercises to develop what Marshall Goldsmith calls "feedforward," obtaining advice and support instead of judgment that will help them grow while cementing ties to the person giving the critique.
4. They make others feel comfortable sharing their emotions and even passions.
Few leaders know how to get the most out of their followers, mainly because they don't make others feel comfortable sharing what drives them. They sense that sharing emotions and motivations makes them vulnerable.
Spodek notes that everyone has a passion. Whatever their practical considerations for doing their work, there is always an underlying passion that gets them up in the morning. It could be making their parents proud or the satisfaction of creating security for their family, but everyone who worked hard to get where they are has something that propelled them. Spodek teaches techniques that enable anyone to create contexts where people share their motivations--in other words, for people to tell you how they want to be led. His exercises enable leaders to learn what motivates others so they can lead using their followers' own meaning, purpose, and passion. This is greater than any external incentive or logical convincing.