While artistic and scientific leaders can build strengths on their own for the most part, interpersonal leaders’ essential ability to interconnect can be built only by doing it. Strengths are made up of innate talents, learned knowledge, and practice-honed skills. Those are mostly individual gifts or activities while interpersonal leadership is … wait for it … interpersonal – which can be developed only by actually leading others. Square the circle by ratcheting up your experience with a current best leadership approach.
If leadership is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose (which it is,) then you can’t lead without interconnecting with the “others.” The challenge, especially as an executive onboarding into a new leadership role, is how to gain that experience without having that experience.
Build on innate talent with learning, practice and experience.
By the time musicians get to their first rehearsal with others in an ensemble, they will have learned the music and practiced their particular parts to a level of unconscious competence. Their rehearsals are not about learning or practicing their individual parts more, but about gaining experience listening to others and dynamically interconnecting all the different parts of the ensemble into a complete, finished piece of music.
How then do you gain experience with a complete, finished leadership approach? How do you get the job if you haven’t done the job? It’s easier than you might think. Take a current best leadership approach in your current role or in roles in project, program, temporary, interim, or pilot leadership.
Current Best Leadership Approach
Just as the current best thinking approach ratchets up thinking, the current best leadership approach ratchets up leadership. The former requires the thinker to be vulnerable and put their current best thinking on the table for all to improve together. The latter requires the leader to be vulnerable and do the same with their current best leadership approach.
It actually makes more sense since you can think on your own, but you can’t lead on your own. Of course, this only works if you are one of the 20% of leaders with enough self-confidence to be open to learning from and with others.
Understand this likely requires two mindset shifts. You must:
- Be self-confident enough to be vulnerably open to help in ratcheting up your own current best leadership approach.
- Not let titles and formal job descriptions get in the way of your proactively ratcheting up your leadership experience.
Gain experience for your next role in your current role by thinking and acting like a next-level leader, stepping up from time to time to recommend instead of ask, or even inform instead of recommend.
Project and Program
Functional leaders often get their general management chops in project or program leadership roles. These provide great opportunities to gain the experience of leading others with different expertise.
Temporary or Interim
If you’re in a temporary or interim role, understand whether you’re there “holding the fort until we find the right person, which absolutely will not be you,” “on probation with a good chance of becoming permanent,” or “doing the job as a developmental opportunity on the way to something else.” In any case, treat it like the chance to experience interconnecting that it is.
Pilot roles are developmental by nature. Jump at chances to get experience leading smaller, simpler teams, units, geographies, or businesses before moving on to run larger, more complicated ones.
How to ratchet up leadership
Prepare in advance. Make sure you’re ready to lead. Learn everything you can. Practice leadership skills. Create your 100-Day Personal Action Plan. Get set up. Jump-start relationships.
Experience the experience. Whether it’s your current role, a project, program, or temporary, interim, or pilot assignment, it is real. In a sense, there is no dress rehearsal for real life. In another sense, every day gives you the opportunity to listen to others and learn from your experiences together and do better the next day. Do your best. Adjust to what goes wrong. Be open to help from others. And move on.
Say thank you. When you’re done, and ready to move on to the next step, thank everyone for their help.