Last week, I introduced John Isaacson and his three important attributes needed to develop leadership capacity: hunger, speed and weight. That post focused on hunger. This week, speed gets the spotlight.
John’s definition of speed: the capacity to learn quickly, mastering and retaining technical material that is relevant to one’s work, pushing ahead courageously to new territories that one is uncomfortable with. Most critical is the ability to learn from one’s own experience, especially from mistakes, the ability to step back and reflect on a painful failure and draw the right lessons about one’s own behavior rather than blaming others.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines speed as, “the rate at which somebody moves or travels”. John seems to juice speed by adding the descriptors “quickly” and “pushing”, giving us a sense that a leader must move and develop at a quick pace.
Then John slows the leader down with the counsel, “Most critical is the ability to learn from one’s own experience, especially from mistakes, the ability to step back and reflect on a painful failure and draw the right lessons about one’s own behavior rather than blaming others.”
He’s right on point. Leaders learn more from their leadership failures than successes. Self-reflection through feedback is essential for learning. The hard truth is most leaders have average feedback processes and are also average leaders.
In her book Team of Rivals Doris Kerns Goodman describes Abraham Lincoln’s insistence (really an obsession) that he had access to critical voices and timely feedback, as he sought to resolve the American Civil War and unify a fractured country. Knowing he would have contentious conversations on policy and challenges to his leadership and person, Lincoln filled his cabinet with many of his political rivals. With thousands of lives and a country at risk, Lincoln needed to add speed and pace to his feedback process. He knew that the speed of the response after the breakdown was where he would find opportunities to lead well.
He was right.
Not many of us are Lincoln but we can still leverage his feedback approach. Here are two strategies to add pace to your leadership practice.
- Colliding Perspectives: Build your own team of people to help you think. Expose yourself to people with different worldviews, opinions, leadership backgrounds and experiences. These should be people who will tell you the truth, help you see your blind spots and add support.
- Sensemaking: Make time to self-reflect. Ask yourself questions. Here are a few to kick-start your self-reflection practice:
- What is my contribution to the mess I am trying to solve?
- What’s going on in my organization from which I can learn?
- An organization is many things but chief among them is a constant source of information on what is working and not working.
- What is my hunger? Unconscious hungers drive detrimental behaviors.
- What’s essential and what’s expendable?
Next week we will explore why John Isaacson believes “weight” is a critical leadership attribute. It’s likely not what you think.