Developing skills as a leader is a process of growth. One typically begins his or her journey building on a “tool-kit” of what they believe to be absolute beliefs and a system for getting things done. As an eager, wide-eyed teenager, I was exposed to and experienced positional leadership. As a young man of college age, I was exposed to peer leadership (still the most difficult in my estimation). While serving in the USMC, I was exposed to a combination of authoritarian and positional leadership; it was simply part of the culture. You could argue otherwise, but at the end of the day many things get done in the DoD based on the rank on peoples shoulders. It’s a necessity of the environment, but it does not preclude military leaders from evolving into truly inspirational people (hoping to calm down my fellow veterans who may take issue with the earlier statement).
In my current leadership incarnation, I have been expected to serve in leadership positions while drawing examples from all of the various leadership types and styles. The environment very much relies on basic leadership principles, but requires you to tweak your delivery for its intended audience. As it is in the development of any artful skill, if you are lucky, your experiences allow you to grow and reflect as new aspects of old problems present themselves to you each day. There is one constant in this process of development – the learning aspect of leadership development never really ends. Its supposed to be a process of growth.
As with any other discipline, when you stop learning, you stop growing. When you stop growing you begin to bring less and less to the table for those who are in need of your competencies. It is a journey in every sense of the word. Make no doubt; you are on a path with a series of twist, turns, valleys and peaks. The distance to your destination is unknown; in fact you may never reach it. If you are lucky you will learn skills along the way that makes the peaks and valleys a little more bearable. Maybe you even begin to learn to read the landscape; avoid dangerous obstacles; identify easier paths and make the climbs a little less unbearable. Just when you think you have it figured out, life throws a different experience at you.
As I have said before, this is less science than art. You could come to the table armed with every famous (and not so famous) leadership quote expounded by the self-described leadership experts (of which there is no shortage) and a formulaic approach to getting people to move mountains; and its at that point the situation will surely deliver something outside of the confines of those described by the experts. Human behavior is at the base of these experiences and wherever people are involved there exist the element of choice. Sometimes they can choose not to buy what you are selling and there is nothing you can do about it.
I’ve watched the current flap surrounding the actions of a young quarterback following the NFL Championship. The incident pulls at the reflective side of my own personal leadership experiences and development. While his actions during a press conference were not perfect, better categorized as a poor emotionally based choice; they are the amplification of a young leader on his personal journey certainly not yet completed. If I am honest during reflection, I tend to look too favorably upon my experiences, as I am sure most do. We tend to hold fast to the image we have of the glorious accomplishments of the past and somehow concurrently discount the failures that were an equal component of those experiences. I could name five experiences off the top of my head where I exercised poor choices in leadership (I know – probably tons more). In most of the instances I got the job done, but I’m not sure I left relationships in tact in the wake of my desire to accomplish the mission, nor did I always appropriately gauge every aspect of the transaction with those I was charged with leading.
I’m less concerned with the mistakes of a youthful leader than I am the development or lack thereof that follows. Can they learn from their mistakes? Can they now incorporate the lessons of failure and use them as sharpening tools for their individual set of skills. Some mistakes are unrecoverable, make no doubt. I don’t think this particular example rises to that level. Only the future will tell whether the young leader takes this and sharpens his tool kit. I’m fairly certain he may have a few more chances to recover during a likely long career leading in the NFL.
The journey continues……..