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Which Is Your Weakest Leg?

Which Is Your Weakest Leg?

As a leader, how do you think about leadership development? How do you make decisions about your own leadership development needs?

There are lots of models of leadership development out there. And, as George Box (a statistician) said, “All models are wrong.” Your complexity as a human being, and the complexity of leading other human beings within organizations, means that no model of leadership development can capture every factor in what will make YOU an exemplary leader. In this sense, all models are wrong.

However, as George Box also said, “Some models are useful.” And when you’re identifying your own development priorities, a good model of leadership development can offer a useful road map that helps you focus your energy in the most effective places.

Lately I’ve been thinking about leadership development as a three-legged stool. It looks like one of those stout milking stools that my father’s wife used during her decade as a dairy farmer:

As the image suggests, there are three primary areas you need to pay attention to as a leader:

  1. Self development
  2. Relationship know-how
  3. System savvy

Your skills in these three areas work together to help you deliver business results. (Please note: Being an effective leader also takes technical expertise in your chosen profession or industry. I’m assuming you already have that – it’s probably why you got promoted to a leadership position in the first place – and I’m not including it in this take on leadership development.)

Self Development

This area of leadership development has to do with the internal capacities and self-management skills you need to be an effective leader. Here are some examples:

  • Self awareness
  • Confidence
  • Decisiveness
  • Being able to tolerate ambiguity
  • Managing complexity
  • Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally
  • Managing your emotions skillfully
  • Being open to learning and feedback
  • Maintaining a calm, non-reactive presence when stress is high

Relationship Know-How

You can be a highly developed individual, and not necessarily have the skills it takes to be in relationship in a way that leaves people wanting to follow you. A few of the skills represented by this leg of the stool include:

  • Listening deeply
  • Acknowledging others
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Telling the truth in tough conversations
  • Saying “no” when appropriate
  • Motivating and inspiring others
  • Attuning emotionally
  • Conveying empathy

System Savvy

Finally, in order to be optimally effective as a leader with a team, you need to recognize and be able to navigate the systemic forces that operate within all human systems. This area of development is about recognizing patterns, and being able to maintain a clearly defined and non-reactive presence as those patterns play out all around you. Here are some of the patterns you have perhaps seen operating among your team, or between you and your team – how do you respond to them as a leader?

  • Homeostasis

This is the tendency of any system to preserve itself. In organizations, it often means that positive changes are followed by backsliding into old patterns.

  • Triangulation

I see this in organizations all the time: when there’s conflict between A and B, A talks to C (usually in a complaining, criticizing kind of way) instead of dealing directly with B.

  • Over-functioning/Under-functioning

Some people argue that burnout comes not so much from over-working, but from over-functioning: taking responsibility for other people’s problems and relationships. (Remember C, from the description of triangulation?) As long as someone over-functions, someone else will under-function.

Self-development, relationship know-how, and system savvy are three key areas of leadership development. Your skill in each of these areas is critical to your success in delivering the business results you’re responsible for. So, which leg of your stool is strongest? Which is the weakest? How could strengthening your weakest leg help you deliver better results?

Stay tuned for more on each of these “legs” of leadership development in future blog posts. For now, I’d love to know what you think about this model. It may be wrong – but is it useful? How does it influence your thinking about your own leadership? Let me know in the comments below!

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