In today’s fast-paced, ever-evolving world, thinking of leadership as a one-stop destination is like expecting your smartphone to never need an update—it’s pretty unrealistic. For years, I’ve been asking leaders to think of leadership as a practice, much like a legal practice or a yoga practice; one that’s focused on growth and adaptation rather than just reaching a specific rank or title.
Have you ever wondered why we refer to some professions as a practice and not others? Why do doctors practice medicine? lawyers practice law? yogis practice yoga?
Why don’t leaders practice leadership?
I’ve always believed that this vernacular needs an update—and that we’re missing a huge opportunity to improve our leaders by not focusing on the practice of leadership.
Think about it: Just like your favorite yoga class, leadership requires regular practice. You don’t just wake up one day, roll out your mat (or, in this case, walk into your lavish corner office), and suddenly you’re an advanced yogi or an incredible leader. It’s about learning, growing, and yes, sometimes even stumbling along the way.
And just like in yoga, when every pose you try isn’t perfect, every decision you make as a leader won’t be a home run. But that’s ok. It’s all part of the process.
There’s this idea in much of corporate culture that all it takes is some training. We call it manager training or leadership training. It may be a few sessions, or if you’re lucky, you may have access to a year-long program with a session each month. Once you complete said training, it’s like, “Poof! Your leadership style has been transformed.”
As an executive coach, who’s coached thousands of leaders, I wish that were true. But you and I both know that isn’t the case. While leadership training can certainly improve your approach, a leadership practice requires commitment, repetition, assessment, analysis. Sometimes it’ll come easy to you, sometimes it’ll be hard. At times, you’ll receive coaching and mentorship. Other times, you’ll ask peers to watch what you do and provide feedback.
The great news is that this approach to leadership keeps it exciting. And in my opinion, it produces better leaders. There’s always something new to be learned, a new challenge around the corner, plus, new faces and new opportunities to grow.
Here’s an example of why it works:
In episode 15 of my podcast, Best Boss Ever, my guest Mary Peterson, VP Enterprise Business Division at Samsung Electronics, talked about the importance of learning. She lost a significant deal early in her career, and the response from her “best boss ever,” was focused on what she could learn from the experience. It helped Mary realize that it’s OK to make mistakes in business as long as you learn from them.
This particular situation followed Mary to Samsung, when her team decided to try a new type of distribution channel for a product, which ultimately failed. However, remembering her experience with failure earlier in her career, Mary ensured her team focused on the learning. This also helped cultivate an environment where the team and fellow leaders felt it was safe to take calculated risks. Learning from mistakes is essential for innovation and growth.
This was leadership practice. Being open to learning is essential as a team member, but even more important as a leader.
Mary’s experiences underline the importance of approaching leadership as a continual journey–one that’s focused on growing and adaptation. Nobody has all the answers, and assuming you do or that you should because you’ve reached a certain seniority in your career is one of the biggest mistakes managers make.
No matter how much experience you have or how long you’ve been in an industry or organization, there are bound to be situations that are new or outside your comfort zone. Best practices change, new technologies arise and it’s only a matter of time before we’re all facing a situation that feels unfamiliar.
But, instead of pretending to have all the answers, if leaders approach leadership as a practice, and turn every challenge into an opportunity to learn, to grow, to improve—not just for themselves but for their teams—we build better corporate environments, with stronger camaraderie, better thought leadership and teams that aren’t afraid to think outside the box and learn together.
Being open about learning and growing isn’t a weakness, it’s a superpower.
Leadership isn’t about knowing it all. It’s being committed to learning it all, every step of the way.