A simple tip to become a better leader. Avoid Osmosis!

I am going to share the single most important tip I have gleaned from my experience coaching thousands of leaders over the past two decades.

I have helped these leaders get feedback about their performance using 360 degree feedback. Along the way, some common leadership themes have emerged. These themes don’t apply to all leaders but they do apply to many. They have been validated in my many one-on-one leadership coaching sessions and when consulting with leaders and their teams on how to improve performance.

There is a common factor underpinning the common leadership weaknesses. This became clear just by asking some simple questions.

If  you want to be a better leader, pay attention to this one tip and ask yourself the same questions.

Common leadership strengths & weaknesses

The common strengths I most often see in leaders are:

  • Results Focus
  • Technical Skills
  • Accepting Accountability
  • Commercial Acumen
  • Planning & Organising

And the skills that most leaders need to develop are:

  • Coaching & Developing People
  • Managing Performance
  • Managing Conflict
  • Delegating
  • Leading Change & Innovation
  • Building Teamwork

These are all critical skills for motivating and managing people. When I work with leaders to develop these skills, I ask a couple of simple questions. I consistently get the same answers.

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Mark Sinclair, Co-founder, Spark Chart

The questions that leaders struggle to answer

There are three simple questions I ask. You might like to ask yourself the same questions.

The first question is:

Can you write down The Six Steps to ……?

You can use 4 or 5 steps – the number does not matter. So, for example, write down the six steps to coach effectively. Or, write down the five steps to manage conflict effectively. The response I usually get is:

  • I don’t know the steps, or
  • I don’t have a process, or
  • I didn’t know there were any steps to follow

Often, people just make up some steps without any real knowledge of the subject. And, when challenged, they quickly admit their lack of knowledge.

The second question is:

How did you learn to …..?

Leaders often struggle to answer this until I help them. There is one answer that they usually agree with:

“Osmosis!”

Osmosis is the word I choose to summarise their responses. And it is the biggest leadership failure in my experience. Many leaders admit that they have absorbed their knowledge from people around them and the leaders they worked with. They have done very little reading or research into leadership best practice.

My next question is:

How good were those people at ……?

I often get the same common response. Not good. Actually, pretty poor. And, sometimes, terrible!

How can you be good at something if you 1) absorbed it from people who are not very good at it, and 2) accepted that approach without doing any research.

So, here is my simple leadership tip to avoid Osmosis

Open a web browser or Youtube and type in …. Steps to …… effectively.

  • Steps to coach effectively
  • Steps to manage conflict effectively
  • Steps to build teamwork
  • Steps to manage performance
  • and so on!

When it comes to developing leadership skills, most leaders I meet with never think to do this. They use web search for so many things. But rarely do they think to use it to help with the specific leadership skills they need to develop. They are quite stunned at the resources and advice at their finger-tips.

Here is the takeout

Next time you are faced with an important leadership activity, ask yourself the following questions.

“How did I learn to do this?”

“What are the best practice steps to follow?”

If the answer is Osmosis and you don’t have a structured process to follow, then jump on the web and do the research. There is a body of knowledge about leadership best practice available to anyone who takes the time to look.

Mark Sinclair

Co-founder, Spark Chart

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