Treating Leadership as a Practice: A 5-Step Roadmap for Growth-Minded Leaders

Great leaders are created via conscious, sustained work; they are not born. Leaders must approach their position as a practice in order to consistently advance and grow, much like doctors practice medicine or attorneys practice law. Over time, it is possible to polish and perfect a variety of talents, including the capacity to motivate and influence others, handle challenging circumstances, and produce outcomes. In this article, we’ll discuss the advantages of viewing leadership as a practice, give examples of effective leaders, and present a step-by-step guide for using this tactic.

Leadership is a practice
Leadership is a practice.

Why Treating Leadership as a Practice is Important

The practice of leadership is a lifelong endeavor. It is a continual and iterative process that necessitates a never-ending need for information and advancement. Great leaders never stop learning from books, other people, their supervisors, their teams, and their coworkers. Leaders may keep improving and staying at the top of their game by considering leading as a practice. The growth mentality that leaders need to adapt to shifting circumstances and guide their teams through times of change and uncertainty is fostered by this strategy as well.

Examples of Leaders Who Embrace a “Leadership as Practice” Mindset

The late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., was a strong supporter of lifelong education. He was well known for having a voracious appetite for reading and frequently drew inspiration for his work from books. A quote from him once said, “I’m a big believer in reading and learning as much as I can, and I think that’s one of the reasons that we’ve been successful.” Similarly, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg is renowned for devouring books at a startling rate. He set a goal for himself to read one book every two weeks and concentrate on learning new things in a 2015 Facebook post.

Roadmap for Treating Leadership as a Practice

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help leaders treat their time in leadership as a practice:

  1. Embrace a Growth Mindset: Leaders who see their leadership as a practice know that they can always learn and improve. They embrace a growth mindset and are open to new ideas and feedback.
  2. Set Learning Goals: Leaders should set learning goals and prioritize their learning. This can include reading books, attending training sessions, and seeking feedback from others.
  3. Read Widely: Leaders should make reading a habit and explore a wide range of topics, including business, psychology, and history. You can view my reading list with summaries here.
  4. Engage with Others: Leaders should seek out mentors, peers, and colleagues who can offer insights and perspectives that can help them grow.
  5. Practice Reflection: Leaders should take time to reflect on their leadership and assess their progress. Reflection can help leaders identify areas for improvement and develop new strategies.

The Benefits of Treating Leadership as a Practice

The abilities and traits that make great leaders, such as the capacity for effective communication, the capacity for inspiring others, and the capacity for problem-solving, can be developed by leaders by approaching leading as a practice. Additionally, this strategy enables leaders to maintain their composure and change with the times. A growth mentality, which is necessary for leaders to keep a positive view, accept change, and remain motivated, is promoted by approaching leadership as a practice.

Leaders who wish to consistently develop their talents and abilities must approach leading as a practice. Leaders can build the traits that make them excellent leaders by adopting a growth mindset, setting learning objectives, reading widely, interacting with people, and engaging in reflection exercises. As Steve Jobs famously put it, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Leaders can innovate and perform better in their positions by seeing leadership as a practice.

Key Takeaway

The most impactful leaders treat leadership as a practice, which involves continuously learning and improving skills. By embracing a growth mindset, setting learning goals, reading widely, engaging with others, and practicing reflection, leaders can develop the qualities that make them great leaders.

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Updated: Why do organizations have leaders?

This phenomenon is true for many leadership roles: If the leader doesn’t show up for work, the business will still run. When the CEO of a hospital misses a day of work, some work may slow down, but the hospital still can run and deliver care. When a trauma surgeon must miss work, their work needs to be covered to save and serve patients, and the operations of the hospital could grind to a halt without coverage.

Sometimes, you will see people in an interim leadership role or leadership roles being vacant for extended periods of time. You see that dynamic far less for positions that interact with clients or customers or who work in support organizations that make the business run. Short staffing is a problem in leadership, yet it is a crisis when it happens at the front line.

Why do organizations have leaders?

If most leaders are not “essential” to run the business, why have leaders?

The reason is that groups of individual contributors often cannot see the larger picture of what the organization is trying to accomplish. Organizations with high leadership turnover are often unstable. Before long, these organizations drift and cannot survive without planning and coordination. These organizations often face operational and financial issues. When an organization is failing and needs to “turn around”, it is usually the result of a failure or absence of leadership.

The Example of Ford Motor Company

One example of a turnaround in an organization due to failures in leadership is the case of Ford Motor Company in the late 2000s. Ford was struggling with declining sales and a loss of market share, and its CEO, Jacques Nasser, was criticized for his leadership style and strategic decisions. Nasser had pursued a diversification strategy that had failed to produce the desired results, and he was also accused of being too focused on short-term financial gains at the expense of long-term growth.

In 2001, Nasser was forced to resign, and William Clay Ford Jr., the great-grandson of Henry Ford, took over as CEO. Ford Jr. recognized the need for a fundamental shift in the company’s culture and strategy, and he embarked on a comprehensive turnaround effort that included a focus on innovation, quality, and sustainability. He also took steps to improve the company’s relationships with employees, suppliers, and customers.

Under Ford Jr.’s leadership, the company began to see improvements in its financial performance and market share. Ford introduced a number of successful new models, such as the Ford Fusion and the Ford Edge, and the company’s overall product quality improved. The company also became more focused on sustainability, developing hybrid and electric vehicles and reducing its environmental footprint.

Overall, the Ford turnaround was an example of how effective leadership can turn around a struggling organization. By recognizing the need for change and taking bold action, Ford Jr. was able to restore the company’s fortunes and position it for long-term success.

What a Leader does in a Company

A leader’s job is not only to keep things running day to day, but to optimize the work and drive results. Leaders are entrusted to oversee all aspects of their areas of responsibility to prevent the falling behind that inevitably happens without leadership. So while most leaders are not “essential” to run the business on any given day, they are “essential” and responsible for making sure the organization continues to grow and thrive into the future.

This orientation to what the work of a leader truly is, can be a difficult shift for new leaders. It is critical to make this shift and not revert to being an individual contributor. Leadership, as you will continue to see, is a fundamentally different job than showing up and performing your function each day. A leader’s point of view must be wider, learning all aspects of who and what make the organization work well, and longer, taking a point of view that extends out weeks, months, and years.

The Ford example illustrates another important point: Leaders that do not drive results often do not last long in leadership roles. If you lead in a business, producing financial results may be the top priority. Non-profit leaders may be measured by whether the number of people served is growing and whether the business is financially stable. If you lead your home-owners association, other homeowners may measure you on how you manage snow removal.  In any of these examples, if the leaders are not achieving the goals of the organization, senior leaders or boards of directors will look for different leaders who can achieve those results.

Knowing what results you are expected to achieve as a leader is extremely important. Accomplishing them in reasonable timeframe is the leader’s primary responsibility and what will either allow the leader to continue in their role or not.

I have seen leaders who have high employee engagement, high quality scores, and high customer satisfaction scores who are removed from their roles in leadership because they were not able to manage the finances of their department effectively in achieving those other results. New leaders must make sure they have clarity about what results are expected of them and in what timeframes. Then it is their responsibility to plan out how their teams will achieve those goals.

The Importance of Quick Wins

The results-oriented dynamic is one reason why it is vital to achieve, “Quick wins,” when entering a leadership role. “Quick wins” are usually small victories and must be respectful of the cultural context of the group. “Quick wins” give both supervisors and followers confidence that the leader is ready and able to produce results that drive towards their goals either directly or indirectly.

One of my favorite examples of a “Quick win” comes from the Apple TV+ show, Ted Lasso. The show is about an American football coach named Ted Lasso who is hired to coach a professional soccer team in England. In season 1, episode 2, Coach Lasso asks for suggestions for improvements he can make for the team, and finds one that says, “The shower pressure is rubbish.” He fixes the shower pressure so that it is stronger, which sends a positive message of support to his team. While not a big change, it is one that showed that Coach Lasso was able to create change in a way that the team suggested.

The “Dark-side” of Leadership

With that example in mind, a note of caution. A leader cannot achieve results at the expense of the psychological safety of the team. There is a “Dark-side” of leadership to watch out for. If a leader makes it all about themselves and sacrifices certain results over their teams wellbeing, they risk being perceived as a narcissist, jerk, or psychopath. When the relationship between the leader and the team breaks down, positive results will only be temporary as the leader will have lost their team and the team will eventually stop allowing the leader to lead them. They will rebel in either covert ways like “Quiet quitting” or overt ways. If you read this post and fall to the “Dark-side,” it will be a failure.

In summary, the sooner a new leader recognizes that the work of a leader is fundamentally different than the work of an individual contributor and requires a different approach, the faster they will be able to make the transition to impactful leadership.

Key Takeaways

While most leaders may not be essential for running the day-to-day operations of the business, they play a critical role in optimizing work and driving results. Leaders must have a wider and longer point of view to oversee all aspects of their area of responsibility and ensure the organization continues to grow and thrive.

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Reconnecting Teams to their Purpose Through Daily Inspiration

One of the most under-appreciated skills that talented transformational leaders possess is the ability to inspire their team daily. Even some of the most challenging and important jobs, like a clinician saving lives or an engineer working on a spaceship can become routine or monotonous.  Talented transformational leaders help team members see the importance of their work even when it becomes regular and normal to them.

Leaders use inspiration to motivate teams and combat the mundanity effect

This phenomenon is known as the “Mundanity effect.” The “Mundanity effect” describes how an activity can begin to feel less exciting or special and instead seem more routine or ordinary. It has been studied in cases like business ethics, emergency rooms, and Olympic athletes, all with negative effects if not addressed.

That is where the leader comes in. Providing daily inspiration can help connect team members reconnect to the exciting parts of their work.

One of the best examples of using daily inspiration in practice is from Ritz-Carlton hotels. Every day, all Ritz-Carlton employees across the world participate in a 10 minute meeting called the “Lineup”.  The lineup consists of four agenda items: Review the Ritz-Carlton gold standards, share stories of great guest service, celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries, and discuss property specific information. The first two topics are standardized and are usually developed at least one year in advance.

One of the goals of the lineup is to showcase memorable examples of exceptional customer service, a hallmark of the Ritz-Carlton. These include stories like Chris Hurn’s about his son’s favorite stuffed animal, a giraffe named Joshie. Chris’ son accidentally left Joshie behind at the Ritz Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida. When the hotel staff found Joshie, they didn’t simply box the stuffed animal up and send it back to Chris’ son. Instead, the Ritz-Carlton ladies and gentlemen (how they refer to their employees) produced a photo book of scenes showing Joshie having an “Extra long vacation,” like hanging out by the pool or driving a golf cart. This story shared an example of incredible customer service and inspired the team to create moments like this one for other guests.

A leader helps to communicate to team members that what they do matters. Leaders show that the work people do every day has meaning, especially for the customer.

The Ritz-Carlton understands the value of daily inspiration to combat the “mundanity effect,” but most organizations to not provide similar resources to leaders. It can be difficult for leaders to find inspiration to share with their teams daily. Luckily, there are variety of resources to help leaders inspire their teams, such as books of inspiration and daily 365 books like the Daily Stoic or the Daily Drucker.

Still, the best sources of inspiration will come from the leader’s and team’s experiences with their customers or with each other. Leaders should continually keep their eyes open for inspiration, collecting customer feedback that can be shared with the larger team. A leader should know their team members well enough to figure out what material will connect them to purpose and seek out relevant examples.

The ability to inspire is an undervalued characteristic of high performing leaders. While it is not intuitive for every leader to find or share inspirational stories, it is a skill that leaders can certainly use more often. Whether it is a customer story or inspiration from a book, leaders should not avoid this responsibility and fall victim to the “mundanity effect.”

Key Takeaways

Leaders use daily inspirational messages to keep their team members connected to purpose. They can find daily inspiration to share with their teams through a variety of resources like customer stories and books.

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How Leaders Attract and Keep Top Talent

In today’s business world, finding and keeping top talent is essential to a businesses’ success. As a result, leaders in some companies are using unique tools to find their newest employees. These companies focus on identifying the best candidates who fit with their culture and values. At the same time, these companies also ensure that their hiring strategies are legal and ethical.

There is also an important economic driver to hiring. For many companies, their biggest financial expense is salaries. Despite recent business norms, like routine layoffs, employee retention is important for leaders when thinking about the financial success of their organization. According to a study from the Center for American progress, it can range from 50%-200% of an employee’s salary to replace them. There are also the costs that are hard to quantify, like the value of the history and knowledge of the organization a current employee may have that could be impossible to replace.

Luckily, certain companies have put together methods to, “Hire for will and train for skill.” This means that they look for a candidate’s cultural fit and then provide robust training to educate them and keep them engaged.


Let’s start with Netflix, the popular streaming service.

Leaders can learn from Netflix hiring practices

Netflix has a company culture that values empowerment (freedom and responsibility). The company believes in giving employees the freedom to shape their work and trusts them to take responsibility for results. Netflix has designed an intense hiring process to identify candidates who can thrive in a self-starting culture.

One of the unique practices that Netflix uses in its hiring process is the “keeper test.” The keeper test is a simple but effective way of identifying whether a candidate will fit with their company’s culture. The keeper test works like this: Would the leader making the hire fight to keep this candidate if they were considering leaving the company? If the answer is yes, the candidate passes the keeper test, and if the answer is no, the candidate is not a good fit for the company.


Wegmans is one of my favorite places to shop for groceries. The grocery store chain seems to always have what I need and offers great customer service.

Leaders can learn from Wegmans hiring practices

One of the unique practices that Wegmans uses in its hiring process is the group interview. The group interview is a collaborative process that involves many candidates interviewing with the leader at the same time. This approach allows Wegmans to observe how candidates would work in a team environment, especially when the stakes are high.

Wegmans also looks for people who have a track record of providing excellent customer service in their previous jobs. By asking behavioral questions, which are scenario-based questions, companies like Wegmans look to identify service minded candidates to join their companies.

Risks to Keep in Mind

While these companies have achieved success with their unique approaches to hiring, it’s important to remember that some new strategies may not be legal or ethical. For example, some companies use pre-employment assessments that measure cognitive, emotional, and behavioral traits. While this method can be effective in identifying talent, it can also be discriminatory and result in legal action.

Companies that want to stand out from the competition in recruiting and retaining top talent must think in new ways. For many companies, their employees are their competitive advantage. By finding the right people and training them, these companies stand out from the competition.

Key Takeaways

For most companies, their employees are their competitive advantage. For that reason, hiring the right employees is extremely important. Companies like Netflix and Wegmans developed unique ways to increase the likelihood of finding candidates that will fit the culture they want to maintain. When practicing leaders do the same in their organization, they can achieve better results.

5 Ways for New Leaders To Meet With Their Teams

Facilitating discussions and meetings is an essential skill for leaders, especially in business.

Effective facilitation enables leaders to tap into their team’s collective intelligence, generate new ideas, and make well-informed decisions. The best leaders understand this and possess an exceptional ability to create an environment that encourages open and productive communication.

Jeff Bezos advise for new leaders on facilitating meetings

Why are great leaders gifted at facilitating discussion and meeting?

Great leaders understand that their team’s collective intelligence is far greater than any one person’s smarts. To have the best results possible, leaders create an environment where team members feel encouraged to express their ideas and opinions. In addition, they possess excellent communication skills that enable them to listen actively, ask questions, and provide constructive feedback. Most of them are curious at their core. They also possess the ability to keep discussions on track, ensuring that the team remains focused on the agenda and achieves the set goals.

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are two examples of business leaders who excel at facilitating discussions and meetings. In a recent interview, Musk highlighted that he has a “no PowerPoint” rule in his meetings. He prefers that his team members express their ideas verbally and then encourages open and frank discussions based on the verbal presentation. This approach allows for a freer flow of ideas and prevents the suppression of any potentially great ideas that might have been lost waiting for a break in the presentation to ask questions. Musk is also known for asking people who are not contributing to leave a meeting and go work on something more productive.

Jeff Bezos, on the other hand, has a “two-pizza rule” for meetings. He limits the number of people in a meeting to those who can be fed with two pizzas. This approach encourages smaller, more focused meetings, where everyone can have their voice heard and contribute to the discussions.

Five ways leaders can be better meeting facilitators

  1. Prepare: Leaders should have a clear agenda for the meeting and ensure that all team members are aware of the agenda beforehand. This helps team members prepare and ensures that discussions are productive and focused.
  2. Encourage participation: Leaders should create an environment where team members feel safe and encouraged to share their ideas and opinions. Leaders should actively seek the participation of all team members. To create an environment where everyone on the team can participate, regardless of whether they are in the office or working from home, I use the 55″ Vibe Board and the Owl Camera. These tools help to encourage participation and inclusion.
  3. Active listening: Leaders should seek to understand their ideas and opinions by asking probing questions. This helps to build trust and encourages team members to share more openly.
  4. Keep discussions on track: Leaders should ensure that discussions remain focused on the goals of the meeting and set clear timelines. Leaders should also prevent discussions from being sidetracked or dominated by a single team member.
  5. Evaluate and improve: Leaders should seek feedback from their team members on how they can improve as a facilitator to capture more ideas.

In conclusion, great leaders possess exceptional facilitation skills that enable them to tap into their team’s collective intelligence, generate new ideas, and make well-informed decisions. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are excellent examples of leaders who excel in facilitating discussions and lead productive meetings. By preparing adequately, encouraging participation, active listening, keeping discussions on track, and evaluating and improving, leaders can become better meeting facilitators and drive their team’s success.

Key Takeaway

Effective facilitation skills are essential for leaders to tap into their team’s collective intelligence and make well-informed decisions. By preparing adequately, encouraging participation, active listening, keeping discussions on track, and evaluating and improving, leaders can become better meeting facilitators and drive their team’s success.


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