How to Get Your Leadership License

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What if you could only be a leader in your organization if you first passed a leadership test. Consider something like getting your driver’s license! Imagine this. On your big day, your proud mentor takes you to the Department of Leadership Certification (DLC). You are nervous as your number is called to enter a private booth and take a multiple-choice quiz on topics like emotional intelligence, teamwork, and leading organizations through change. You feel good about how things went, until your assessor calls for you to come and take your practical exam. You are then given a task and a team, and told to deliver results under challenging conditions. All the while, your assessor is scribbling notes on his clipboard about your performance. Hours later, you get your scores back…you’ve done it! You’ve passed your leadership test and earned your license to lead!

Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, as crazy as this may sound, many people out there are waiting for someone to “certify” them as a leader. They may not be formally taking a test; however, they are lingering until an authority deems them “worthy” of handling leadership responsibility. These are the people who tell themselves, “once I get that promotion, then I will be ready to lead.” Or maybe it’s “once I get an M.B.A. from a prestigious institution, that’s when I’ll really start leading.”

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I’ve got a “secret” to share with you…No one can give you permission to lead; it’s a choice you make all by yourself. It doesn’t take a new title. It doesn’t require an advanced degree. However, it does require you to see yourself as a leader. That’s the real magic of getting recognized with a promotion or going through the ceremony of graduating from a credentialed program. These events change how we see ourselves. When leadership becomes a part of your identity, one starts to embrace leadership behaviors more.

So, how do we flip the switch and start to see ourselves as leaders? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Realize You Own the Power – Come on…Really? Yes, really. Recognize that leadership is not about the title and has nothing to do with your credentials. Instead, these things often lend us authority. Yet, authority is given to us whereas leadership is something you do all on your own. If something in your organization must change, begin with yourself and model the change that’s needed. Build your credibility and find others with shared values. Create strength through relational commitments and energize others through your passion. Then, work with authority (or artfully against it) to strategize outcomes and appropriate actions to bring about a new reality. Voila, you just led a movement. Not because someone authorized you to do so, rather because you chose to put in the work.
  2. Practice Your Confidence – So why don’t more people put in the work required to lead? It’s a combination of a few things. First, it’s easier to not exercise leadership, and many just don’t have the energy or determination within them. They would rather someone just do it for them. The second most common reason is people are afraid they might fail. They say to themselves; “what if I put myself out there and nobody follows?” or “do I really have what it takes to make a difference?” There is only one way to know—give it a try. You build your confidence to lead by doing. Note also that it’s often in failure we learn our greatest leadership lessons. Every time you step into the arena, you are building your leadership skills, and in the process, you gain confidence.
  3. Be a Student of Leadership – The best leaders are insatiably curious and committed to life-long learning. They consistently pursue new knowledge and diverse perspectives on leadership. They read leadership books not only to gain fresh insights, but also to form their own opinions on what will work for them personally. They also try to surround themselves with other leaders and observe their behavior. Finally, they commit to their professional development. Whether it be signing up for a new training or working with an Executive Coach, they prepare themselves for the challenges of leadership.

If you hadn’t already bought into your own power to exhibit leadership, I hope this article has helped you to see things differently. If you know someone who has real potential to lead, yet hasn’t created that identity for themselves, please share this with them. With so many challenges today, the world need more leaders. Thankfully, we don’t have to get a license to do so; we just need to choose to lead.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all of this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.

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Mindful Leadership in a VUCA World

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In my last article on the VUCA Proof© leader, I made the case that leaders exist to extinguish the status quo, envision a superior outcome, and align actions towards producing new results. To be effective towards this purpose, leaders must be extraordinarily bold, rising above the distractions of Volatility, Uncertainty, Ambiguity, and Complexity (VUCA) to inspire others. Yet, embracing boldness as a leader is only part of the equation, as a strength overdone becomes a weakness.

Perhaps, you have met an “overly bold” leader. Someone whose vision was so far ahead of the rest of the team, they had a hard time gaining buy-in during execution. Or maybe, they challenged others so intensely to attain their vision, they burned out even their most ardent supporters (or themselves) along the way. For boldness to be effective, it needs a counterweight. Mindfulness is the Yin to the Yang of boldness.

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You may think, “Oh no, not another mindfulness article!” For some, the word mindfulness conjures up images of yogis meditating on a pillow, and it’s “too far out there” for them to practically access. So, please allow me to break this down in the most tangible way possible. Mindfulness is about training your attention. For a VUCA Proof© leader, mindfulness is about training your attention to cut through chaos, so you can notice what’s going on and deeply understand the impact of your leadership initiatives. Let’s look at these components in greater detail.

Cutting through chaosIt’s No Longer Optional – In a world of information overload and multitasking, a leader’s attention is their most precious asset. One might think of attention as the currency of leadership, just like in your wallet or purse you have a finite amount of money you have available to spend. How you spend it is largely a function of your values/needs, and how a leader “spends” attention reflects their priorities. Unfortunately, in today’s VUCA world, it’s easy for leaders to spend their attention on distractions. Mindfulness is no longer optional; it is now a critical leader behavior.

Hand in waterGetting Beneath the Surface – With deliberately focused attention, the leader can dig deeper to see and to hear what might go on in their environment. Think of your daily workflow as moving like a fast-paced stream. The water is rushing by, and from the banks, you can see rocks and how they are affecting flow. Now, you take your hand and place it in the water. Immediately, you notice new information. The water is cooler and deeper than you expected. You also notice there is a strong undercurrent down about two feet. Similarly, leaders leverage mindfulness to observe, feel, sense, and think about what’s going on inside them and around them.

connectionsSeeing connections – With fresh information to work with, a mindful leader can practice greater curiosity and empathy. They might notice the VP of Sales sounded a little down on the call today and get curious about how he is holding up after almost three straight weeks of traveling. They may then remember he has a 5-year-old daughter at home, who has likely also been affected. Or a leader might notice their own frustration around why Project X hasn’t made more progress in recent weeks, only to realize they haven’t done a great job communicating expectations for certain milestones. Having connected the dots, the leader now has greater choice as to what leadership actions will increase their influence and produce results.

Yet, like boldness, mindfulness does not just happen to us one day; it’s a behavior that must be practiced and embodied. To be a mindful leader, here are a few things to keep top of mind:

  1. Be Your Own Intervention – VUCA typically has us thinking about past events and anticipating the future. To get oneself in a fully present state requires an intervention! We need to interrupt our thinking and quiet the mind. For many, the best way to do this is through a micro-meditation that focuses one’s attention on your breath and/or our body. Sometimes, a short mantra can help. As an example of all three techniques, here is Deepak Chopra’s “go-to” 3-minute meditation to get focused.
  2. Make Curiosity a Habit – Once you are well practiced at quieting your mind on demand, you will have the space to practice authentic curiosity — questioning your observations in an open, honest, and non-judgmental way. For better introspection, this is a solid list of 13 questions every leader should have on hand and reflect on daily. However, mindfulness is also about what’s going on for others, and great leaders’ check in often with their people to test assumptions. Here is also a great list of 7 questions every leader should keep in their back pocket to better understand the impact of their leadership on others.
  3. Commit to Consistency – 10 minutes a day…at a minimum, that’s what it takes to increase your mindfulness (1). Just like heading to the gym, you must put in the work to build new muscle. Create the conditions for consistency. Perhaps, you start your day with 5 minutes of meditation and then 5 minutes of reflection on “questions of the day” (before looking at your email). A little discipline goes a long way, and over time, it will become easier. Finally, there is great new technology you can use to support a mindfulness practice. If you haven’t yet heard of Headspace, it’s a great app that helps to make meditation and mindfulness a habit.

I invite you to bring more mindfulness to your leadership. In doing so, you’ll be setting yourself up for greater success and moving toward what I call a VUCA Proof© leadership style. Interested in learning more about what it means to be a VUCA Proof© leader? You can download my whitepaper here. Interested in training your executive team to adopt a mindful, more VUCA Proof© leadership style? Simply download the VUCA Proof© 1-day Executive Workshop Brochure here.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all of this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.