The Best Way to Build Leadership Skills

Most of
us have finally arrived at the conclusion that leaders are grown not
born.  But what’s the best way to build your own leadership skills? 
The current issue of Fortune details the leadership gains from IBM’s
practice of forcing employees to take on new global risks.  IBM sends
teams around the world to work with local organizations on local
problems.

Essentially, the firm has developed an extensive program of stretch
assignments, new work experiences, that force their fast-track
potentials outside of their comfort zone.  It’s been common knowledge
for a long time that the best way to gain new insights and learn new
skills is through real experience, not in the classroom.  There is a
caveat to that.  The experience will also need to be supported with
mentors or coaching.

Although very few of us will ever have the opportunity that IBM
provides its potential leaders, locating stretch opportunities within
your own firm is available to many employees.   It’s a very common
process for IT workers and those in the film industry.  Although a lot
of consultants work with just a single shtick, many of us are
continually upgrading with stretch work.  My business and my expertise
have very little relationship to what I started with 25 years ago. A
huge proportion of those gains came as a result of stretchwork.  I lay
out the research in a paper aptly titled Bluff Your Way Into a New Job. You’ll find the paper here.

The Fortune article also emphasizes that leadership development is
an investment that will pay off only later.  With so many corporate
cultures addicted to the short term, that’s often a hard sell.  But
that need not be a problem for the typical employee searching for
stretch work inside his company or perhaps in better times, at another
company.  Just remember that leadership development–call it career
development–is a continual process.  It’s not like a game of
checkers.  It’s a game of chess, always figuring out the next five or
six moves and taking avantage of them.

(The article is in the December 7 issue, and not yet available on the web.)

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