How do you get to stunning leadership? Practice, man. Practice.


We are familiar with the concept of practice to get better at it in the performing arts. Even though we don’t think of leadership having an element of practice in it, in reality we have the opportunity to practice and get better at it every day. Most of us need to be more conscious and intentional of our practice, not unlike those practicing an art form.

I have an abiding love for classical ballet, and spent many years at the barre (not the “bar” except maybe in college a little). In every class, even the Principal is required to practice the basics. The small movements of the head, the way she points her foot, and her stance at the barre are practiced and corrected daily.

All of these simple movements are foundations for more complex ones. Even the simplest move take years to get to perfection. When the practice of these small movements are practiced repeatedly over years, they can become part of the more complex ones like pirouette or pas de deux. These more complex movements build on the simple ones and can be joined together in choreography to create a stunning ballet performance. Thus, it’s the practice and perfection of the simple things that produce the most results.

And so it is with leadership. It’s foundations include the simplest of thoughts, words, and actions. They must be practiced daily with presence and intention. These basics can take years to perfect. When the practice of each foundation is done consciously, the basics can be joined together to create stunning leadership.

Consider ways to become more aware of your practice of  the leadership foundations:

Thoughts:  When your thoughts are focused on what is right for you, those who follow you, and your organization, the right actions will ultimately be expressed. Practicing right thoughts best comes through a reflective practice. Consider keeping a journal of your thoughts (this works well with introverts) or finding someone trustworthy that you can talk to on a regular basis (this works well with extraverts).

Words: People listen closely to those in management and leadership roles. It will serve you well to become very clear about how you will communicate, down to the basics – the exact words you say. Practice them when possible before they come out of your mouth. Recording them or working with a coach to perfect them may work for you.

Actions: Followers watch managers and leaders more vigilantly than anyone (this is called “hyper vigilance”). Make sure that your intentions are pure and that your actions follow your words before you act.  A promise is a promise; keep yours in order to build trust. Practice finding ways to capture and follow up on the promises you make (put them on your calendar, have your assistant keep track, etc.).

Practicing ballet and practicing leadership can have the same effect: stunning performances. May you be the recipient of many standing ovations.


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.

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