Practice the Power of Opportunity (A Leaders Made Here Post)

We welcome Mark Miller for the third post in a five-part series defining the core principles of Leaders Made Here.

Step 3 - Practice the Power of Opportunity

Creating a leadership culture is within the grasp of every organization. The steps are known and proven. Hopefully, Leaders Made Here will serve organizations around the world by articulating an approachable strategy for success.

In my previous posts in this series, I outlined the first two stages of the journey. Without a working definition of leadership (Define It) and the skills necessary to deliver on the definition (Teach It), your efforts to create a leadership culture are on a dubious foundation. However, with these cornerstones in place, you are ready to bring the entire process to life.

Step #3 - Practice It – is where the theory and concepts of leadership are transformed into tangible experience and results. The idea is simple to share and more challenging to execute. Here it is:

Give your current and emerging leaders real opportunities to lead.

That’s it. More will be learned from leading than any other strategy or tactic you can devise.

Here are a few tips to make this step most productive:

Think before you assign – This may sound obvious, but don’t miss it. There are several things to think about here. Who are the leaders who need a growth assignment? Perhaps the answer is everyone! Fair enough; who needs which opportunities? Options include: Start a new venture. Turn around a struggling team or division. Grow a stagnant segment of your enterprise. Solve a major process or systems problem. Employ a cross-cultural or international experience. Build a team or department or division from scratch. Think – then make your assignments.

Provide coaching and feedbackPractice It is not intended to be a solo endeavor. The most valuable experiences will be those in which a coach, mentor, or supervisor helps the leader process and learn from his or her experience. As Howard Hendricks, one of my mentors, reminded me often, “Experience is not the best teacher – evaluated experience is.” Help the leader name the lessons learned.

Don’t over react to the outcome – The Practice It step in the process is not intended to be a sink or swim, pass or fail activity. It is not intended to be a corporate version of the Hunger Games, in which only the strong survive. The assumption is that every leader who is given real opportunities to lead will learn from her or his experience. Now, this is not to ignore patterns or emerging reality. Repeated opportunities to lead will reveal strengths, weaknesses, and potential limits regarding a leader’s future potential. But don’t judge leaders too quickly. We are all involved in a lifelong process of development.

Here’s my final word on this step in the process: Fight the temptation to give all your real leadership challenges and opportunities to current, seasoned leaders. This is the short-term, risk-adverse, approach. It is not the path to long-term growth and vitality. It is not the path to a leadership culture.

As Robert Frost so eloquently said . . .

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Allowing leaders to Practice It is the road less traveled. Take a chance; give it a try. It will make all the difference!