Observing the best in class


In a ballet class, you begin at the barre. The basic steps are practiced there, in front of a mirror, so that you’re supported by the structure of the barre. There, you practice the foundational movements of ballet in order to move on to the next part of class which takes place in the middle of the room without a support to hang onto.

Practicing at the barre, you can observe the ballerina in front of you. When I was in ballet class, I saw this as an opportunity to watch and learn from the best person in the class, getting to class early so I could have this choice spot. I was watching for specific things: how this “best in class” ballerina rose on her pointe shoes, how her leg turned in just the right way to stretch it up to the barre, or how she positioned her fingers at her side. If I liked what I saw, I’d try it.

As a leader, you have opportunities to observe specifics every day from the best leaders in your organization, your community, and the world. You must continue to get better and learn new things. One of the best ways to do so is to observe those leaders you admire for things that you’d like to “take on” or improve in your leadership.

You only get better with observation and practice. You must be intentional about your observations because the distractions are constant. You can start here:

What is it that you want to learn? Who is best in class, and what are they doing? Perhaps you’d like to get better at team facilitation, or coaching your staff. Look around and find the best in class in those specific things. What is it that is compelling about the way they do those things? While still remaining true to who you are, what are you willing to try?

When and how will you practice? Although it’s an important first step, observation isn’t enough. Now that you’ve decided what you’d like to learn, you need to try on this new behavior! Unlike many other professions, leadership is practiced in real time on the job. What specific venue do you want to try it in? How do you want to show up with this new behavior? How will others see you? Observe yourself in real time as practice, and ask for feedback from those around you.

How did that feel? Is your practice something that needs tweaking? Consider what you felt as you tried out this new behavior. Did it feel natural or stilted? Does it allow you to remain authentic to who you are? What feedback did you receive, and how might that inform any changes you want to make to this new “practice”?

Now you can make the changes you need to make and continue to practice. Not too far into the future, you’ll find that you don’t even have to think about how to practice; it will become a new habit, allowing you to take your leadership to a new level.


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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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