Learning Leadership by Wrestling Cats?

“I knew a man who grabbed a cat by the tail and learned forty percent more about cats than the man who didn’t.”
~ Mark Twain

Twain’s witticism carries some truth about leadership: 1) we learn leadership from being in close proximity to it, and 2) we learn leadership through memorable experiences.

LEADERSHIP UP CLOSE

In former times, people learned a trade or profession by apprenticing under a master craftsman. The student would follow the craftsmen everywhere, observing his work, asking questions about his methods, and then practicing the craft under his watchful eye.

The medical profession still adopts this experiential approach to education. Even after 8-10 years of study in college and medical school, trainees for the medical profession spend 3-5 years in residency. Medical residents make rounds with a veteran doctor, observing how she diagnoses patients, administers treatments, or conducts procedures. The intern then works with patients under the vigilant supervision of the experienced physician. As they gain experience, upper-year residents pass along their knowledge, training others to do what they have learned. Hence their motto on medical procedures: see one, do one, teach one.

As a leader, make yourself accessible to the next generation in your organization by letting them inspect how you lead. Give them priority time to ask questions, and offer them an inside look at the way you plan for the future. Most importantly, entrust significant decisions to them. If you’re making all of the important decisions on the team, then you’re not successfully developing leaders.

LEADERSHIP ALL AROUND

The Green Bay Packers football franchise has a 30-year waitlist for season tickets. Fans of the team place their newborn children on the list so that they will one day be able to go to the games. On a day when the Packers play, parents dress their kids in the team’s colors, host cookouts, and then cheer on the team together.

No father ever sits down with his son to logically persuade him to become a Packers fans. Instead, the dad takes his son to a game, introducing him to an experience that the boy will never forget. In Green Bay, children catch their community’s passion for the team as they grow up. The city’s culture encourages kids to be lifelong Packers fans.

In your organization, you can create a culture that regularly talks about and celebrates leadership. You can invest resources to give your people unforgettable experiences (conferences, retreats, etc.) that will inspire them to become leaders. You can surround your people with images, stories, and examples of noble leadership—impressing on their minds what good leadership looks like and why it matters. A vibrant leadership culture…

  1. Causes people to see self-identify as leaders
  2. Encourages people to think from a leadership perspective
  3. Diffuses practical knowledge about how to lead
  4. Gives people confidence to lead
  5. Stirs up and activates people’s unique leadership gifts.

THOUGHTS TO PONDER

In your workplace, how can you put your teammates in closer proximity to leadership?
If you’re a parent, how can you create a leadership culture in your family, designing memorable experiences for your children so that they grow up with a passion to lead?

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