How to Build a Better Leader

While we often repeat Malcolm Gladwell’s premise, in Outliers, that it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something, we rarely apply that idea to soft skills – like leadership. And that is quite possibly why we have such a tough time cultivating leaders in our organizations.

Joshua Spodek, author of the bestselling Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow likens leadership skill to an athlete’s or an actor’s skill. You must participate, you must start small and perfect different aspects of the craft, you must put yourself in situations beyond your comfort zone to really explore and understand your capabilities. You aren’t simply “gifted” the title (or skill) of leader.

Tom Brady recently led his team to a 5th Super Bowl win. But he didn’t join the Patriots as a leader. In fact, he was a sixth-round draft pick (the 199th player to be picked!) and, when he joined the team, he was one of four quarterbacks (that’s two too-many by most NFL team standards). Luckily, Brady was able to hone his skills (both athletic and leadership) while out of the spotlight – the rest is history.

Jennifer Lawrence is the highest paid female actress. It seems as though she just exploded on the scene but in fact she started here “career” in school musicals and church plays. Her first screen-time was in a supporting role 10 years ago. She’s acted in dramas, comedies and sci-fi movies. She has been the lead…and part of an ensemble. She has honed her craft and is viewed as a bankable star in Hollywood.


How Can We Create Our Own Bankable Stars?

According to Spodek, the first crucial skill to master is self-management. One cannot manage others unless he / she is in command of himself.

Next is communication skills. Spodek rightly points out that people hear what is said – not what is meant. Remember, it’s the speaker’s responsibility to ensure their message gets across.

The third key development opportunity is our favorite – constantly seek growth. Yes, increasing knowledge and skills in one’s industry is a given, but Spodek suggests leaders-in-training should examine and challenge their core beliefs in order to be open to all possibilities.

Finally, Spodek stresses the importance of being comfortable with emotions – both one’s own and one’s employees. He suggests finding out other’s passions in order to lead them in the way they want to be led. Daniel Goleman expresses this same sentiment but refers to it as empathy.

As you can imagine, none of the skills, above, are developed without devoted effort and analysis of what works and what doesn’t. A little coaching doesn’t hurt either – because it’s nearly impossible to say to oneself, “You know what I lack? Self Management.” (Thank you, Travis Kalanick, for shining a spotlight on that one.)

Leadership skills should be SOP (standard operating procedure), in terms of training, at all organizations. If your organization doesn’t train for these – start today – before you find yourself with no quarterback.