The Leadership Workout

Whether you’re into the gym, yoga, running or just walking the dog—you try to keep yourself fit, so why not work out your leadership “muscles” too?

While coaching executives and aspiring leaders over a decade and a half, I’ve put together this workout of 15 quick exercises that can help you strengthen your leadership skills no matter what situation you and your organization may be facing.

For each of the following exercise, take a look in the mirror and reflect on:

a) How you handle it now
b) What’s working and not working
c) How you want to enhance your approach going forward

Then practice:

1. Spread your vision, strategy, roadmap and your “why”: Make sure everyone responsible for your organization’s success understands your vision and strategy, knows the roadmap to get there, and “gets” why and for whom the world will be better if your vision is achieved. If your people are vague on any of these elements, they won’t be able and/or inspired to do their best work.

2. Appreciate collaboration: Value and reward your people’s excellence when they deliver results and when they collaborate with colleagues and “have each others’ backs.” Expecting and rewarding both results and relationships make a more sustainable organization.

3. Accelerate new ideas: Measure, monitor, and decrease the amount of resistance in your organization to implementing a good idea. Diminish the amount of time, number of steps, or non-value-added activity it takes to execute new projects. This “drag coefficient” exists in all organizations of two or more people, and lessening it is an ongoing way to maintain a strong flow of good leadership.

4. Delegate authority: Delegating with context and clear expectations makes you and your team scalable. If you’re a founder, perfectionist or do-it-yourselfer, you may need to work extra hard to guide others to do their best for you, rather than do things “your way” (or worse) yourself.

5. Weed out chronic underperformers: Give all reasonable feedback, candor, and support to your people to help them succeed. With that, when someone continues to underperform, help them move on. Hanging on for too long is a common and avoidable leadership error.

6. Be accountable: Modest failures are inevitable, particularly when innovating. It’s important not to hide from them or shift blame, but to claim and transcend them, and to encourage the same from your team.

7. Encourage innovation: Innovation isn’t in a book, method, process, or workshop. It’s in your imagination, as well as your courage to challenge the status quo. Push yourself and your team to do, build, or be something novel.

8. Build for sustainability: Making positive (and not negative) impact on people, communities, economies, and natural resources is a sustainable way to lead.

9. Reduce avoidance: Noticing what you’re avoiding or when you’re procrastinating is an underused source of self-correcting leadership. Periodically make a list of these things, and look for a pattern. (And don’t put it off!) You will likely encounter an important insight.

10. Create a culture of candor: Candid feedback given and received is the breakfast of champions. Be candid with others, and ask the same for yourself. Honesty is the key ingredient for sustaining success when things are going well, and the fuel for change when things are in trouble.

11. Open your mind by opening your ears
: Positional authority—like that of a leader—can shut people down, and make them less likely to share ideas and suggestions. Give people permission to share their thoughts and questions. In fact, the most junior people, who are often the ones doing the actual work, can often see most clearly things that need change. Make it easy for them to connect to you.

12. Monitor yourself and read the room: Launch your self-observer drone in every interaction and meeting, and keep an eye on how you are coming across. Tailor your communication to your audience, and monitor your “transmit-to-receive” ratio. In other words, how much are you talking versus listening? It’s good to follow the 80/20 rule–80 percent asking or listening and 20 percent talking. Even if you are at 50/50, you’re talking too much to lead effectively.

13. Move the timeline to the productive future: Shift unproductive conversations into the future so that they can lead to useful solutions. “This is an important discussion, and what are we going to do moving forward?” is a great way to turn a frustrating go-nowhere discussion into a valuable outcome.

14. Carve out you-time: If your calendar is booked morning until evening every day, and you don’t have process time to yourself, then you’re not leading effectively and sustainably. I ask my clients to block a few hours a few times a week, or 30 minutes per day, during which they’re not returning emails, texting, or doing phone calls. Simply sit and think, and maybe make a few notes.

15. Identify and retain the “keepers:” People on your team who “care” are worth their weight in gold. Hire and retain employees who are fired up and care deeply about their own work. Diligence and willingness to learn are harder to find, and, when absent, more valuable than experience and credentials.

As you consider these 15 sets of leadership “muscles,” think about your own team, enterprise, and leadership approach. What could use some additional workouts this week? This month? This year?


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

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