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Learning to Lead

The making of an effective leader is a much-explored topic and has been for years.

Leadership is the subject of countless articles, self-help “how to lead” books and, for a relative few, expensive executive education leadership development seminars.

I agree that this focus is worthwhile. Effective leadership is key to the success of both small and large businesses. In fact, the ability to harness “people power” well is what differentiates the good from the great.

In our industry, we are all about people and the relationships they create. For agency principals, company supervisors and individual producers who are charged with leading a team, the question to ask is “How do I get my team to be the winning team?”

And, before I provide some suggested approaches to finding those answers, I want to make my own biases explicit. I have spent a great part of my career looking at leadership and the role of leadership development. I ran executive development for a Fortune 50 company as well as wrote extensively on the subject and actually taught leadership development as a key part of a human resource management course at a prestigious business school.

From that perspective, I have concluded the following:

  • Leadership is not an innate set of skills. Rather, leaders have personal attributes that can be enhanced and developed.
  • Leadership is primarily an art of the heart. By connecting emotionally as well as cognitively with others, leaders inspire and show the way to achieve commonly held aspirations.
  • Leadership is learned by doing the work of leaders. Step out and take responsibility not only for the productivity, but the engagement of those you would have follow you.

Having said all that, here are my suggestions for enhancing your ability to lead your team:

Get a coach—If you are able, hire an external professional executive coach for a six month engagement to make a significant impact on your leadership effectiveness. A good coach will set leadership goals with you, look at specific issues and help you devise leadership strategies to turn impediments to potential opportunities, and the coach will also work with you on effective communication styles for getting commitment from your team.

Get a coach—If resources make it impossible to get an external professional coach, ask your colleagues and team members to not only work with you but also to coach you on what is working and not working in your leadership style.

Take a course on managing or leading people—Leadership development programs are effective if you have time and the resources to afford them. Read books about famous leaders— Consider what distinguished them as leaders and what you can learn from their example.

I know my suggestions just represent a starting point for discussion. The most important point I can make, and my final one for this article, is that leadership requires work and, like the development of any skill set, practice, practice, practice. The rewards far outweigh the cost in time and energy—you and your whole team can win your business game plan. And, after all, what team ever got on the playing field to come in second?

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