It’s the focus of nearly every professional development seminar and conference talk – how to be a better leader. But can you really learn these skills without leaving the office or moving past those MBA courses? According to many top industry figures, it’s only when you leave the C-suite that you develop the kind of leadership skills that make a difference. It’s all about thinking outside the box.
Further, Faster, Stronger
When asked what activities make someone a better leader, one thing many successful people recommend is taking up running. It may seem like a strange recommendation, but it makes sense – a survey of female executives, for example, revealed that the majority played college-level sports, a trait that isn’t as prevalent among the general population. But why is athletic ability and commitment tied so closely to leadership?
According to Victoria Crawford of the World Economic Forum, participating in sports helps people hone their leadership skills because it makes them goal oriented in long-term ways. Training for a marathon or trying to make the championship game isn’t something you can do overnight. Playing a team sport or training with a group also teaches people to invest in their community in order to attain the desired outcome, a key component when trying to lead a professional group.
Go With The Flow
One of the most distinctive traits of a great leader is the ability to change direction at the drop of a hat. They assess the conditions, determine what’s working, and choose a new path. It’s a skill that can salvage failing strategies and keep your business out of hot water with investors, or prevent employees from making career-damaging moves. But where do you learn to react in this way? One possibility: white water rafting.
Anyone who’s ever been white water rafting knows that you can’t rely entirely on advance planning once you’re out on the water. Rather, you have to make split second decisions based on water conditions and in conjunction with others in your raft. These are based on both instincts and consideration. You surrender to the water but you also take control of it – otherwise, you’ll end up falling overboard.
A successful white water rafting expedition actually has a lot in common with good leadership, according to Suzi McAlpine, a leadership development specialist. You celebrate the good while keeping an eye out for what’s coming. You embrace the slow patches and don’t hurry through them. But most importantly, when the unexpected strikes and you face major rapids, you act in the moment and reflect on any failures. Sometimes you get dumped from the raft – a product tanks or you suffer a data breach – and when you get to the other side, all you can do is assess the situation and think about how to stop that from happening next time.
Write It Out
Finally, if you’d prefer to work on your leadership skills without breaking a sweat or getting soaked in a river, another way you can approach the process is through keeping a journal. Though you’ve probably heard about the benefits of keeping a journal since you were in grade school, your teachers likely didn’t recommend the practice because it would get you a corner office.
Surprisingly, just setting your thoughts in order each day or at the end of the week can help you assess your progress as a leader, reflect on times you should have acted differently, or reframe a conflict. When you make a habit of keeping a journal, key issues rise to the surface, allowing you to consider them in a new light, away from the situation.
Leadership takes many forms and so does leadership development. Ultimately, we develop better leadership skills when we engage in activities that make us feel more confident and help us to connect with others and ourselves. Whatever drives you, wherever your passion lives, that’s where you’ll be most successful in developing leadership capabilities.
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Written by: Larry Alton.
Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur, Social Media Week, CEOWORLD Magazine and the HuffingtonPost among others.