Learning Leadership

- it isn’t about books

Since I finish my education as an engineer approximately 10 years ago, I’ve known that an education is there to teach you how to learn, develop and adopt new ways, method and perspectives. But it’s within the last year that it came to me, that it demands more than an education can give you.

The most people finishing an education believes that the perspective behind it (which most people don’t really know) is the only way the world works. For an engineer everything can be put in a pattern where action equals a re-action (same effect — with a little lower efficiency though). For an economist everything is about the numbers. For lawyers every situation is a conflict and a struggle find an objective way of proving you’re right. On so it goes.

For that matters nothings wrong if you want to have a career as a specialist. The problem occurs when you find these people — with this single perspective way of seeing things — in a position as leader. In some cases this is tackled by sending people in expensive courses or hiring expensive consultants. Again, in most cases it gives no effect because the stuff on the course, or from the consultants, is percepted as the truth and the only way of seeing things. But you know what? The best education — especially as a leader — is right in front of you more or less every day. Every situation where you interact with other people will train you as a leader, if you open up your mind and sees what happen in front of you.

Let me give you an example;

Today I’d promised my boy to help him assemble a LEGO-kit that he’d had for christmas. My boy is 5 years old and very good in building LEGO-kits and even though he is only 5 years old, I don’t considered it too big a challenge for him to build kit with the an age-limit from 6 and up.

Before we started I told him that he was responsible for making sure that we had it build. I didn’t wanted to be left alone building his toys. If he want to play with it he had contribute. I wasn’t afraid of him not understanding the word “responsibility” — they’ve had it as a theme on his kindergarten not long ago.

Also in advance I told him that we could only do 30 minutes of assembling and then he had to go outside and have some fresh air with his little sister. Both mum and dad would join them and as always we told him — because he didn’t want to — that it was healthy and good for his mind. We knew he was expecting him and me to finish the kit afterwords but it was a big kit a we knew we had to eat lunch approximate 60 minutes later from when we started up the second time. So again another break in his — at this day — favorite thing to do. He actually kept saying through the whole building process that: “this kit is the only thing he has ever dreamed of!”. But as said we spared him the worries of another break in the process.

I was excited to see how he would handle the building of the kit because he’s getting better and better and more confident every time we attack a kit like this. I knew he would face problems at some points but decided to see with what when it occurred.

Due to the fact that he was the man in charge I told him all the time that I was there to help him when needed my help — not for keeping momentum in the process — but if there was something he for some reason was not able to do (it’s not always his finger-power or motoric skills can handle the job). If he wanted me to do some specific things he had to explain to me precisely what it was. It was okay to delegated work to me.

A couple of times his passion for LEGO came up and he started building other things than the ones shown in the instruction. I told him that: “It doesn’t build it self” and he returned to the instruction. When he’d put me into work I tried to take my phone and check my email — just for fun — and he rapidly said: “It doesn’t build it self”.

When he hit trouble I told to him to take a deep breath and remember the system that the instruction has (finding the parts for the specific picture, look carefully where they has to be placed and forget the other pictures for a while).

When he’d been to the toilet I noticed that he’d a little bit hard to get it going again. I knew I needed to take the control a little while to make sure we kept momentum. I only had to do shortly and then was back on track. The same thing was happening at the end. He seriously started to loose interest and said that we didn’t needed to finish the kit because now he already had 2–3 items to play with from the kit.

They whole episode above may seem like a meaningless thing to write about, but if you look at all details there are following leadership issues (from my point of view) to pull out of it:

1) Demands

Make sure to let others knowing your demands when they want your participation. I told my boy precisely what my expectations was if he wanted me to participate.

2) Predictability

Pictures the process for your self and all the participants how it will go and on which condition. Our boy did not have any reaction regarding the breaks in the process because we told him what was going to happen one step forward all the time.

3) Basic needs

Take care of people basic needs if they are able to them self. In this case I knew he wouldn’t keep koncentration all day if he didn’t was fed with fresh air early in the day. Reference for further explanation can be made to Herzbergs two-factor theory.

4) Choose side — if possible

When conflict or problems occurs make sure you have used time for build up your own point of view. In this case it was very easy. I knew the manual was “the truth” so he had to try until he was doing the right things when he faced trouble — which by the way lead me to the next. But make sure you’ve done what you can to clear the case out before you talk to the parties when there is a conflict or a problem..

5) Presence

When you put someone into a process where you know they’ll run into trouble make sure you’re there for them and know how you will handle the situations where they face the challenges.

6) Role

You must as leader be ready to take work from people if they show the responsibility and delegate it to you. You must be able to lead but, just as important, also able to contribute with followership — up, down, sideways — in all directions in your organization.

7) You as a buffer?

If one of your people has a break down or loses momentum you must be ready with an action. When my boy and me got to the end of the kit I let him get along with it. He’s small boy and I think he’d done well at that time. If this happens with one in your workforce you need to be ready with a reaction — which is customized to the situation of course.

8) Be professionel

Even though my boy develops when he takes a detour and makes his own small figures there is purpose of following the instruction. We need to build the kit. He’ll develop from that as well. Handle passion with patience and corrections and do it gentile. Do not kill initiative!

9) Right back at ya’!

Make sure to have your integrity intact. Don’t do things you’ve told others not to do. When I picked up the phone he was there as a snake.

10) Every day — new emotions

You have to able to handle what a person sees as the most important. My boy explain to me today that this was the only thing he needed. To night he played with some of his other gifts and had an hour in front of Disney Junior Channel.

11) Control mechanisms

When you’re leading other people avoid getting to operational with you advises them. If you want them to develop, you need to give them a goal or system to follow so they will get them self out of or through the maze.

(They are no deep thoughts in which I’ve listed the bullets above).

You can question the things written above but my point is; there is no way you’ll ever learn how act as a real leader by reading books, listening to professors or some rather incompetent consultant. They may give you some tools and you may learn some specific stuff but the world is multi-perspective kind of thing and words and concepts such as; specific, one-way, my way, my reality, the reality, the truth etc. has to be outlined from your “how-to-do leadership” handbook.

If I can get 11 point out of this small process with my boy, there are no limits of how much your everyday life can develop you as a leader. It’s a matter of will! The truth does not exist and reality is something we create together with the people around us. You need to learn how to learn and to always have an open mind, to be able to see which things that educates and develops you. Close the books — seek a reality!

Neither kids or adults were hurt during the production of this post ;-)

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