Leadership is a Practice

by  Monica Diaz  |  Self Leadership

I love the way we talk leadership here. It always inspires me to read what others are saying, to hear the radio shows, to be in the presence of the Lead Change community. So here’s what I have been pondering lately. I hope we can continue to explore it together.

Consider this: True leadership is not a position or even a role you take on. It is an everyday, creative, constructive practice where you become increasingly aware of how you influence others with your actions, the ideas you share, the vision you lay out. That perspective brings about a whole new set of questions.

What would the practice entail?

If leaders get over themselves for a minute and take this on as a practice that can be expanded upon day by day their perspective might change radically. Into what they are doing in the now and how it is being received. Into what they can do to hone their leadership today. Into presence and awareness of what you are feeling, thinking, doing as a leader. Ask yourself the questions that allow you to explore the possibility of being a better leader for the practice you accumulated today. Instead of aiming for perfection and not showing weakness, leaders might lean towards vulnerability and welcoming feedback as ways of creating a learning environment for themselves to continuously improve. What ingredients would YOU add to your leadership mix if your intention were to practice leadership more and more?

What elements should a leader revisit frequently to get better at what she does?

When you are trying to be the perfect leader you want to be ahead of the bunch. Innovating. Leading to new heights, new depths, or totally new places. But when you are in the practice of leadership, you recognize the patterns. The way you come full circle and repeat the parts of the practice that you and your followers can still benefit from. Should you be questioning your assumptions? Could going back to the drawing board be the best way to move forward? Without the fear of losing the lead, a leader might find himself at ease with replenishing, revisiting, revising and re-energizing.

What must a leader remain passionate about to become more and more effective in time?

Just as with any practice, staying true to purpose helps. Why else would musicians repeat a passage of the score a zillion times? Why do YOU keep striving to lead? What makes you tick. If this is a practice it will require your determination, commitment and L-O-V-E. There! I have spelled it out. If you don’t LOVE leading, you probably won’t have what it takes to keep at it. Purposeful practice requires an ambition to thrive, to learn, to endlessly hone one’s skill and keep at it when it’s hard, easy, simple or difficult to see. There must be something else that moves you. Beyond the joy of being followed by others, or even seeing your vision take life. It must be in the practice itself. You become one of those rare individuals that are intrigued by setbacks, driven by puzzles, happy to put in the elbow grease and moments of frustration to continue on the path of a practicing leader.

So what other questions come up for you – as a leader – when you think of what you do as a practice? Does it bring up new ideas/actions? Does it free you or make you feel unsure? Try it on for size. Then, let us know what you are thinking. Surely, we can lead change by shifting our point of view about leadership as a practice. I welcome your thoughts and look forward to joining in this conversation with you.

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What People Are Saying

Mike Henry  |  24 Nov 2010  |  Reply

I appreciate that you talked about purpose. Even in a not-so-honorable company with a not-so-honorable boss and a not-so-glamorous job, we leaders have a high calling – that of serving our people. When we help others achieve more and do better from their own internal motivations and from a partnership with us, we have made a big difference. Everyone can’t have the ideal job or the ideal future, but we can all bring our best and create value. Leaders who help others do just that have a purpose worthy of their best effort and their passion.

Thanks for the great post, Monica! Mike…

Monica Diaz  |  24 Nov 2010  |  Reply

Thanks, Mike! Glad you liked that reflection. It really is true: when leading is a part of your life purpose, you keep at it, even when the environment is not perfect. Glad you started the comments going. I hope more people pitch in, even right before Thanksgiving. :)

Senen Perfecto  |  24 Nov 2010  |  Reply

Hello Monica!

Your article underscores your commitment to help people move towards a more connected and fruitful existence. Yes, we leaders need to be passionate in self-development in order to best contribute to the lives of the people we influence.

I’m glad you aligned this with love because, just like love, personal excellence and leadership are unconditional. I believe there are only 2 things that matter in life, character and contribution; and I am blessed to be a member (though quiet) of the Lead Change Group because the community influences my growth in character and inspires me in my commitment to contribute to the growing number of people I am privileged to lead.

Ad Majorem Deam Gloream!


Monica Diaz  |  25 Nov 2010  |  Reply

Isn’t it great, Sean? This community of like-minds? Passion and purpose, character and contribution. They make for a more significant life and true connection with those around us. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Leo Bottary  |  26 Nov 2010  | 

Monica, I enjoyed your post. I also couldn’t agree more with your comment about a community of like-minds. It feels comfortable, yet in the broader scheme, I think that it’s the kind of comfort zone we as leaders needs to be wary of. Jonathan Haidt gives a wonderful TED talk on moral relativism. I happen to be a liberal politically, so I watched the first part of the talk with a wry smile as he criticized the perceived closed mindedness of conservatives. The longer I watched, the more I realized (as a liberal) I was being set up. He proved pretty convincingly that liberals (me included) are not nearly as open-minded as we like to think we are. It’s a fair point, and as a leader, the ability to look for the value in arguments and in the good in people with whom we may not agree is essential to effective leadership and building trust over the long-term. So I ask the question to you and others: What do you all do to keep your mind open? Really open?

Lorena Heletea  |  26 Nov 2010  |  Reply

“Become increasingly aware of how you influence others with your actions, the ideas you share, the vision you lay out” Absolutely Monica, we influence our clients with our actions, our behavior rather than with our techniques or words, increased awareness is most important. Great Leaders take time out of their day to constantly improve and develop themselves. The more they understand themselves, the more they understand other people and the more effective they become.
Great points Monica.
Thank you

Dorothy Dalton  |  27 Nov 2010  |  Reply

Hi Monica – well said! We are in a time where there is mass disillusionment with leaders generally.Vision and creativity have become confused with reckless risk taking and even spectacular failure is rewarded. It’s good to see to some common sense guidance back to basic principles to keep leaders grounded.

Dr. Ada Gonzalez  |  29 Nov 2010  |  Reply

Hi Monica. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You say that leadership is “an everyday, creative, constructive practice where you become increasingly aware of how you influence others with your actions, the ideas you share, the vision you lay out.” This made me think of a story shared by David Edwards in another forum that illustrates this well:

Jerry is the kind of guy you love to hate. He is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. He was a unique manager because he had several waiters who had followed him around from restaurant to restaurant.

The reason the waiters followed Jerry was because of his attitude. He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Jerry was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.

Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up to Jerry and asked him, I don’t get it! You can’t be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?” Jerry replied, “Each morning I wake up and say to myself, Jerry, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood.

I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life.

“Yeah, right, it’s not that easy,” I protested. “Yes, it is,” Jerry said. “Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people will affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line: It’s your choice how you live life.”

So, following your line of thought, you can choose to embrace leadership as a practice, you still have to make a choice: what kind of leader will you be. I hope we all will choose to be positive leaders that want to have a positive influence in those around us.

Dr. Ada

Susan Mazza  |  29 Nov 2010  |  Reply

I love this line of thinking. One question that comes up for me is:”what can i do that scares me (even just a little or at least make me uncomfortable) to make a difference today?” Leadership takes courage. We have to be willing to continually step outside of our comfort zone. If we are not, are we really approaching leadership as a practice?

Shawn Murphy  |  30 Nov 2010  |  Reply

What a phenomenal call to action for all leaders, Monica – formal or informal and emerging leaders. I like the analogy of ingredients. It evokes images of something magnificent coming together – not bland, but spicy. Ingredients need to change, too, or we become bored with the same ol’ same ol’. Thank you for such great words for us all to ponder and act on.

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