Build Your Leader SHIP

Ships have important jobs. They take people and things to new destinations.

But, to be seaworthy, a ship must float. And, to float, a ship requires a solid foundation.

Leaders are like ships.

They have important jobs. And they also need a solid foundation.

Like shipbuilding, leaders must start with a design. Here’s a simple approach to building your Leader SHIP:

  • Self-assess
  • Hatch a plan
  • Involve others
  • Pace yourself


This first step in your leader design asks:

Am I lead-worthy right now?

To answer, begin by identifying the knowledge, skills, and experiences you need to succeed in your leadership role. Then, match those with your current strengths to see what’s missing.  The result will be a list of gaps between the kind of leader you want to be and the leader you are now.

Start with a self-assessment, but never stop there.

Observe all men, thyself most.
~ Benjamin Franklin

Hatch a Plan

After you’ve found your gaps, make a plan to close them.

The best development plans incorporate a blend of activities, leveraging the 70/20/10 model of learning:

  • 70% of learning is from doing
    • On-the-job performance
    • Projects
    • Stretch assignments
  • 20% of learning is from watching others
    • Coaching
    • Mentoring
    • Feedback
  • 10% of learning is from self-study
    • Courses
    • Workshops
    • Reading

Consider how you learned to ride a bike. You did it by, well, riding. Through trial and error, you fell down and got back up again. Someone also demonstrated the proper techniques, and you likely stood on the curb, watching your friends.  Maybe, just maybe, you read some instructions.

As is illustrated by our bike example, most learning happens through doing. As you're crafting your development plan, keep in mind what activities will most help you gain the knowledge, skills, and experiences to ready you for the challenges ahead.

It'll be a blend of activities, but the best learning happens when you just get out there and do it.

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.
~ Pablo Picasso

Involve Others

Self-assessments and development plans are great, but they are not enough. You will need help along the way. Lots of it. Drawing on the ship-building idea again, imagine how hard – nay, impossible – it would be to build a ship alone.

Why should leadership be a solitary act?  Well, it’s not. You succeed and fail with others.

It is because of this, that you must take stock of your relationships. And take action to mend or strengthen any relationships that will be key to your success. Consider any of the following:

  • Your boss
  • Your peers
  • Your team
  • Your customers

For each group, start with the following questions:

  • Am I credible?
  • Am I trustworthy?
  • Am I respected?
  • Am I approachable?

For each “no” or “maybe” answer, your next step is devise a plan to improve your position with that individual or group.

Face it. As leaders, we need people more than they need us. It is because of others that we accomplish anything at all.

We works a lot better than me.
~ Ken Blanchard

Pace Yourself

Finally, as you build your leader SHIP, take a moment to dream. Visualize the perfect leader. Think of that person you idolize for all their shiny perfections, whom you wish and can’t wait to emulate. The leader who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and can do no wrong.

Do you have that image?

Great, now crumple it up and throw it in the dream trash.

Remember that you’re only human and that there are no perfect leaders. The quicker you accept this, the more successful you’ll be.

Don’t take on more than you can handle. Be realistic. Even more, just be yourself.

Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.
~ Warren Bennis

Set Sail

In closing, remember that to be lead-worthy, a leader needs a strong foundation. Without it, the leader may sink.

If you’re a leader today, or aspire to be one, take the time to consider your design.

What knowledge, skills, and experiences do you need to succeed? What plan will get you where you want to go? Who can help you along the way? And, finally, remember to pace yourself. Be honest about who you are and what you can accomplish.

What else should one consider when building their Leader SHIP?


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