After a journey of more than 20 years searching for the essence of excellent leadership, I have uncovered a crucial missing link that must be mentioned and acted upon if we are going to dramatically improve leadership worldwide, collectively speaking.
Why, despite a sophisticated billion dollar industry of quality and mostly expensive leadership training, the existence of and access to more content on excellent leadership than ever before, are we still making the same mistakes; still plagued by weak, toxic and incapable leadership? Why can one argue that the world is in its biggest mess ever, with many leaders sowing destruction everywhere? What has gone wrong? What have we missed?
The missing link in why we are where we are despite billions being spent on leadership development and much being said and preached about great leadership can be answered in four words: Lack of Leadership Fitness.
Just as it does absolutely nothing for your physical fitness to go for a run every couple of months and nothing in-between, so attending the best leadership seminar, or reading the best leadership book, or attending that one excellent leadership course at Harvard or wherever, will do precious little, even NOTHING for your leadership fitness. In the same way as it takes regular exercise to remain physically fit, so it requires regular activities to remain leadership fit. All over our planet leaders are being trained at great expense, yet they seldom become and remain leadership fit.
How many times have we seen leaders appointed to a role they seemed ideally suited for, leadership fit perhaps, equal to the task at h and, yet, in time something went horribly wrong. They started making small exceptions that before long led to big blunders. Or, they did remarkable things for a while then somehow started making huge errors in judgment, undoing all the good they did. If I had to show you the list of leaders I have interviewed over 20 years you will be shocked to see how many seem to be examples of toxic, weak and/or incapable leadership. But in many instances they weren’t like that when we met, or they weren’t always like that in their past. Something went wrong over time. It could mean that they were never Leadership Fit to begin with, or they somehow allowed themselves to become leadership unfit. We do that physically by stopping exercising and we do it from a leadership perspective by stopping what I share later in this article.
In short, if someone takes over a leadership responsibility that will invariably increase in its complexity (the VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous – world will make sure of that), yet they don’t increase proportionately in their Leadership Fitness, the result is an exponential, compounded decline in effective leadership.
To underst and Leadership Fitness more, lets take a moment and look at what fitness means, universally speaking. A definition offered by Siri: “The quality of being suitable to fulfil a particular role or task.” So, am I suitable to fulfil the task of running and completing a 42km marathon? If not, I am not jogging fit for a marathon specifically. I might be for a 10km race. And moving away from physical fitness for a moment, if the task is to pay my bond at the end of the month and I can’t, then I am not financially fit for that specific task. I might be if I lived in a smaller place or lived more frugally?
So, am I suitable to fulfil the all important role or task of leadership? This is where it gets complicated. What does the task of leadership look like? What is leadership? Who decides if you are suitable or not? I think we are fairly clear about what the task of Civil Engineering, Teaching or practicing Law looks like. In fact, to some degree it’s decided by society in that you cannot qualify in any of these and many other technical fields if you haven’t walked a prescribed path. And once it has been determined that you are qualified to practice, that’s not the end of it. You then go in search of “roles” or “tasks” (a job) that usually result in some screening process about who is more than basically qualified for the context of the available role and that could mean many things.
I want to offer my view of what someone that’s perfectly suited for the role or task of leadership – generally speaking – looks like.
Here is the ideal list – however, it is what a baseline leadership fit individual looks like:
- He or she wants that leadership role (formal position or not) for the right reasons and wants to be a great leader.
- He or she knows them self deeply. Said another way, they can define their Best Self and consciously strive to be that person. We can even refer to this as being “Character Fit”.
- He or she is able to consistently move people and situations successfully in a positive direction (positive performance). The situation might be to move a department or company towards a specific vision or goals, and that happens, because they seem to make the right decisions more often and more consistently than not. And to do that he or she moves people and manages their attitudes.
- He or she thinks seamlessly. In other words, no boundaries, believing the impossible is doable, positively processing barriers to any positive movement.
So how does such an individual remain leadership fit or even improve their fitness?
1. By doing regular activities that keeps the desire of wanting to be in that position growing. In fact doing what is necessary to fall in love with leadership; to become passionate about the leadership role as they perhaps were initially about their technical role.
- Reading about leadership,
- watching videos and listening to conversations with leaders,
- consciously looking out for leadership situations,
- consciously watching and learning from good and bad leaders around them,
- participating in forums,
- Becoming a passionate and consistent student of leadership and life.
2. By following daily practices that help them discover and remain connected to their Best Self, their deepest Character. Never taking for granted that they will always remember and be that person. Sensing that their worst self is always under the surface. Activities could include:
- Daily Prayer
- Daily meditation
- Daily uplifting reading and studying
- Daily planning
- Daily or regular deep and honest reflection, which could be in the form of a journal
- Keeping a gratitude journal – finding ways to be grateful
- Taking time out in nature to think and enlarge personal perspective
- Seeking to underst and spiritual truths
- Physical exercise
- Discovering and following a purpose, and so on.
3. By working hard on becoming a master at creating positive movement. This could mean developing the skills needed to become confident in several areas, which include at least these three:
- Motivating, inspiring people and teams – they know ultimately people have to move situations
- Giving quality direction – by underst anding as best they can the industry, product, service
- Managing structure – resources, systems, processes, finances – well and where possible appoint people who can. In other words ensure the managerial component of leadership is intact.
4. By always setting their sites higher and never settling for mediocrity.
- They keep aiming higher, further and bigger
- There is always a larger goal and vision
- They refuse to believe something can’t be done
- They work on their faith, that belief that there is a higher purpose and that the human being is capable of the impossible
- Cultivating a positive outlook towards barriers, problems, challenges, resistance
I end with a few important questions to you:
- Are you Leadership Fit?
- Are you doing the necessary to remain and even become more Leadership Fit, because the Leadership Fitness required today may differ from what is required next year? It sure is different today from before the arrival of COVID19.
- Are you doing what’s required to assist the leaders under you to be, remain and become more Leadership Fit?
If you and your leaders want to become and/or remain Leadership Fit, join our movement, a virtual “Leadership Fitness Gym” known as “ThinkLead Executive Club”. We would love to include you. Let us create a Leadership Fit society, globally. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.