Being A Good Leader Takes Practice

Take a look in the mirror

If you want to become a strong leader you must slow down enough to pause and look in the mirror. It’s a good idea for you to schedule time on your calendar at least once per month for this. For those of you that are hard charging achiever types this will be difficult, but this exercise is guaranteed to pay dividends for your growth. 

There are many opportunities to learn and sharpen your leadership skills when you pause and self reflect after:

And ask yourself these important questions:

  • What went well?
  • What did not go well?
  • Did I communicate what I was trying to?
  • How could I have been more concise and effective? 
  • How was my message or action perceived? 
  • Did my words and behaviors match my core values and beliefs?

When you take time and honestly answer these questions you will always learn and grow as a leader, and I bet you will be surprised at your answers.

During crucial conversations emotion and frustration may come out. You are very passionate about your business, you spend a lot of hours trying to improve your performance, and you expect your team to match your passion. But, you may not realize in the moment you aren’t handling yourself to your standards. This is perfectly okay, it happens. What is important is to learn from your mistakes and handle the situation differently the next time. 

You can ask your boss, peers, or co-workers these same questions. 

They love to give you feedback. Your team will always be willing to help if you give them the opportunity, are open minded, and take their feedback well with zero retaliation. 

Don’t make the same mistakes I have and ignore their advice. Your peers can tell when you are asking out of compliance and when you are honestly trying to improve yourself. I’ve lost count of the number of times leaders had their teams fill out start-stop-and continue surveys, but their team blew them off and didn’t give quality feedback. They knew they didn’t actually want to take their feedback, so why bother? You can come back from this, but it is hard to do.    

“Self-reflection entails asking yourself questions about your values, assessing your strengths and failures, thinking about your perceptions and interactions with others, and imagining where you want to take your life in the future.”

Robert L. Rosen

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

If you take time to self reflect you will learn a lot through your mistakes. Why are our nation’s military leaders veterans of multiple wars? It’s because the trenches are where learning and growth happens. You need to get your hands dirty. Books, classes, and online learning modules will only take you so far. You need to get out there and try to lead your team to become a stronger leader. 

You will make mistakes. I have made a ton of them and I am going to make many more. Some of my weaknesses are shocking. I have favorite employees, I have a hard time giving up on a clearly lost endeavor, I always give my team too much rope, and blame myself far too much. I’m stubborn, I get far too emotional, I hate doing projects out of compliance, and I often make the same mistakes twice.

What are your tendencies? 

I learned about my weaknesses, in the trenches, by making mistakes.

Don’t be afraid. You need to be out there giving feedback, coaching, and holding your team accountable to learn. You don’t have to know everything or have the most experience to help your team grow.

Are your intentions pure? Do you genuinely care about your team and believe the best of them? If so, you’ve earned the opportunity to have honest conversations.

You will offend some of your team that have never been spoken to directly before. A lot of leaders tip toe around the truth, but you can be different. By being honest and loving you can take your team to a level they’ve never been before.

“How do you keep from making errors? “You can’t think about it. You’re going to mess up. So what? You start over. If you want to avoid making a mistake, you cannot try to avoid making a mistake. You just have to forget about it.” I know what he means. It’s a strange tic of our brain. Sometimes, the more goal-oriented we are, the less likely we are to attain that goal. If you really, really want something, you have to forget how much you want it. Or else you’ll be too nervous to get it. But dear Lord, that’s a cruel and paradoxical system evolution has devised.”

The Guinea Pig Diaries, by A. J. Jacobs

Learn from leaders you don’t like

We often discuss the qualities of great leaders. Leaders like my manager AJ in the dream manager post. But we often skip talking about bad leaders. We should talk about bad leaders more often because you can learn a lot just by avoiding acting like them.

Have you ever worked for a manager you didn’t like? Maybe their style didn’t motivate you or it might have actually demotivated you. When you find out they are working you let out a sigh and know it isn’t going to be a great day and when they are on vacation or out of town you are excited and know it is going to be a good day.

You can learn a lot from these mangers because if they drain you energy, there is a very good chance they affect other people on your team the same way. Spend time thinking about what specifically they do that bugs you. 

One decade ago I worked for a manager that was toxic, let’s call him Danny. When Danny worked I was miserable. He was wildly immature, inappropriate, and embarrassing. He made sexual comments about female employees, talked trash about other team members when they weren’t around, and made fart noises and faces behind customer’s backs. Danny had a small group of immature fans that would snicker at all his jokes and he loved it.

I couldn’t stand it. How is he in a leadership position?

I should thank him now because I learned a lot by working for Danny. Such as the exact traits I do not want to possess as a leader and how I should never treat my co-workers and customers. 

A lot of times managers like Danny will try and hold back anyone that isn’t like them. To keep their power they push down any competitors or anyone new that doesn’t like their style. I was given this advice a long time ago and it helped me get through this time and also to rise above it: “If you don’t like your current boss, just wait a few months and they probably won’t be your boss anymore.” 

If you are a hard worker with a good attitude, this will always prove true. Hang in there, everything will equalize and people like Danny don’t keep their jobs forever. Learn everything you can from them and turn their negatives into positives.

“The big deal here is to remember that the very things you want from a leader are the very things the people you are leading expect from you. You must intentionally become more of each of these every day to grow yourself and your business. And to the extent you’re not doing that, you’re failing as a leader.”

EntreLeadership, by Dave Ramsey

Spend time practicing

Role-playing can be a fantastic learning tool. Through roleplaying you ca practice giving an annual review, coaching, compliments, conducting an interview, or even constructive criticism. Whatever you need to work on you can practice in a safe environment before doing it for real.

Grab two people you trust and have one act as the employee and the other as an observer. 

Practice the scenario you are trying to improve upon.

Once finished ask them what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what you need to do differently. This is a good time to use the timeless start, stop, and continue exercise. Have the observer tell you one thing you should continue doing, one thing to stop doing, and one thing you should start doing.

After your practice take one minute to thank the others, accept their feedback, and then repeat the exercise, but switch roles. You now get to be the employee or the observer. 

You need to have team members to practice with. Look at any professional sport. Athletes spend more time practicing than actually performing. Professional athletes even practice during their seasons.

How often are you practicing?

Have you heard Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule from his book Outliers? “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

You need to practice for many hours before you will be an effective leader. So get started right now.

Is there someone you trust with more experience than you?

Ask if they will role play being the leader while you observe. Watch and listen to everything. Pay close attention because it is the little things that make all the difference. Or you can shadow them during a live coaching, performance review, termination, or interview. Being a fly on the wall during important conversations is a great way to learn. There is more pressure for the leader to set a good example than in a role play and you often get experience in situations you never would have gotten before.

“With deliberate practice, however, the goal is not just to reach your potential but to build it, to make things possible that were not possible before. This requires challenging homeostasis—getting out of your comfort zone—and forcing your brain or your body to adapt.”

Anders Ericsson


If you are new to leading a team you may be itching to begin practicing. Great! But make sure you remember to self reflect and find out what you need to be working on the most. It’s a good idea for you to ask a few people you trust what your biggest weaknesses are. 

If you are a veteran leader, some of this may be old news. But, when was the last time you sharpened your skills? Just because you have been doing your work for a long time doesn’t mean you can stop improving. 

“I took Jim Rohn’s message to heart and became obsessed—I would never stop growing, never stop giving, never stop trying to expand my influence or my capacity to give and do good. And as a result, over the years, I’ve become more valuable in the marketplace.”

MONEY Master the Game, by Tony Robbins

No matter which camp you are in I challenge you to think about your leadership differently. Ask yourself these important questions each day:

  • What went well?
  • What did not go well?
  • Did I communicate what I was trying to?
  • How could I have been more concise and effective? 
  • How was my message or action perceived? 
  • Did my words and behaviors match my core values and beliefs?

Put effort in every single day to grow. As a leader you are never perfect and are never finished growing. That is why it’s fun to lead a team. You must hold yourself to the same standards of others and keep improving each year.

What did I miss? Please write a comment below and let me know.

Feature image courtesy of Edi Libedinsky.

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