What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith, the author of the ubiquitous leadership book of the same title, couldn’t make the point more clearly. The leadership skills and methods you used to get to this point are not necessarily the ones that will get you to the next level of success. And you won’t know what you need until you experience the inadequacies of what you’ve known. My mentor and colleague, Mel Toomey, describes it this way, “You can read all the books you want about swimming, and you will be no closer to knowing how to swim. The only way to learn to swim is to get in the water.”

“You go first” leadership

As a leader, you must create space where your team members can encourage each other to develop and practice their capacity to lead through experience. If you want your team to swim in a different ocean, then as their leader, you need to dive in first.

Leaders who are successful at creating this space: 

  1. Invite their team to contribute, take action and share their experiences with new ideas
  2. Provide their team with the resources (developmental and otherwise) they need to be successful
  3. Demonstrate their commitment to the team by living their story
  4. Own their mistakes and take their leadership development seriously

Create a learning environment

To encourage the development and application of new ways of doing and being, it helps to think like a teacher. Terry Heick’s article, “10 Characteristics Of A Highly Effective Learning Environment” comes at it from the classroom perspective, stating that an ideal learning environment is one where:

  1. Questions are valued over answers
  2. Ideas come from divergent sources
  3. There are constant opportunities for practice
  4. Learning habits are constantly modeled

All in this together

The key takeaway is that the challenges we face as organizational leaders are bigger than any one of us. Overcoming them will require getting deeper access to ourselves and our teams. There is no step-by-step instruction manual for a successful future. However, applying this and the other four ideas in this series will go a long way toward ensuring your strategic planning results in a better future for your organization.


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