Ron Crossland Leadership Development

Ron Crossland Leadership Development

Avid Pursuits

A great many leadership researchers and thought leaders have made suggestions concerning leadership growth. Being a leadership research student, I have reviewed most of them from Argyris to Zalesnik. The one person’s whose thoughts ring most persistently in my ears is John W. Gardner. Gardner was a thought leader, a leader of causes (Common Cause and the Independent Sector), and a senior leader in both the public and private sectors (he held the HEW cabinet post under Lyndon Johnson and served on many private sector boards).

Among his insights is the following from his book
Excellence, “Exploration of the full range of our own potentialities is not something that we can safely leave to the chances of life. It is something to be pursued avidly to the end of our days.”

Many leaders I have worked have avid interests. I’ve know men and women who pursue sports or athletics passionately, practice a variety of forms of meditation or contemplation, actively engage in social causes, or extend themselves in some artistic way. I have caused many of them to wrinkle a brow and think about their honest answer to this question.

“Do you pursue your own growth as a leader as avidly as you do your other interests?”

Some of them say they do, some reflect and wonder if their leadership is perhaps enhanced by their well roundedness, and others remark that leadership growth happens when you are active in the world whether you think about it or not. While I appreciate their perspectives, any one of them seems to fall short of Gardner’s thoughts concerning not leaving growth up to the chances or circumstances of life.

I have pondered his advice for years and in my own research and contemplation have some suggestions for how any leader can improve their own growth. I will say up front that the following ideas may sound familiar, so I encourage you to reread them. They may also sound easy, but I assure you they are not.

1. Get involved in some things. Many believe that experience teaches and I agree, but only if you are willing to learn. Make deliberate choices about your activities and use them as a powerful source of learning about your own leadership. And while you are at it – vary your choices. It’s just like any kind of athletic training. The wider the variety of exercises the better the overall tone of your mind and body.

2. Self-reflection must become a habit. You can’t save up all the experiences in your life for a short duration review on your vacation or at a leadership retreat. Periodic self-assessment enhances the learning loop and while deep insights may or may not increase in frequency, they will occur closer to the time of the experience, which means you will get to leverage them sooner. I have had a conversation with more than one leader who has remarked that they wished they’d thought about certain experiences sooner because of the perspective they provided.

3. Make friends with the truth. Whether you are engaging in deep self-reflection as a matter of habit or due to some timely feedback, make truth a trusted advisor and look at yourself honestly. This is never really easy to do and at times confusing as to whether we are getting to the truth or engaging in one of a variety of self-delusions. However persistence in using the truth to help you increase your ability will yield value over time.

4. Make friends. Growth has two great voices – monologue and dialogue. Self-reflection is great, but having others involved in your develop is great as well. One of the mainstays of psychology is that development of nearly all human endeavors is a sociological process. Get others involved in your personal development.