I was staring at my computer screen at 6PM on a Friday finally relieved that my team had gone home. It had been 4 weeks since I inherited this group, and either I was the worst leader in the free world or they were unable to be managed. It was just about this time, that I ran across a quote from Simon Sinek:
“Great leaders don’t blame the tools they are given. They sharpen them."
I made a commitment right then and there to not replace these talented individuals, but develop my own leadership skills. I decided to do a little research on how I could improve.
My brain initially went right to one of my favorite authors of all time, Malcolm Gladwell. In his widely popular book, Outliers, Gladwell states that it takes 10,000 hours in a field to develop mastery. With the stakes high and my company’s future at risk, I didn’t have the equivalent of 5 years to gain some level of mastery.
In my research, I came across a TEDx video – ‘The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast!” featuring Josh Kaufman.
Kaufman devised a four step methodology for anyone to learn any new skill as quickly as possible. Kaufman states that in just 20 (focused) hours anyone can go from knowing very little to being proficient.
That’s the key! I didn’t need to be a master leader, but what I needed was to be better and be better quickly!
Here are Josh Kaufman’s four steps to learn anything:
I live in the same fast-paced world where time is our most valuable commodity as you do, so I bought into Josh’s theory. (After all, he did teach himself to play the Ukulele in 20 hours). Here is what I did:
Leadership, like many skills, has core competencies needed to be effective. I broke down what was going to get me to proficiency the fastest based on experts like Marshall Goldsmith, Franklin Covey, and Dale Carnegie.
Instead of agonizing over the competencies that mattered the most, I made swift and confident decisions about what made the most sense to my organization at the time.
This was about learning everything I needed to be able to perform effectively. I dove into reading, took online courses, and had conversations with leaders who I respected. I used my knowledge of the golf swing as my barometer for learning enough to self-correct. This allowed me to not have to go too far down the rabbit hole in one area or fall victim to paralysis by analysis.
I committed to giving up TV and task-oriented work activity on certain nights to be able to consume leadership content. This was an important step to ensure it didn’t derail my workdays but provided dedicated time to knowledge consumption. This was easily the hardest step in the process because humans are creatures of habit. In order to make a change I had to change some of my habits.
The best part about developing leadership skills is that you have an infinite amount of opportunities to practice. It’s actually true of most skills that include communicating with human beings – like customer service or sales. I got my 20 hours in without a problem and I get to continue to practice everyday of my life whether I am at work or at home.
Fast forward to today. While I don’t consider myself Jeff Bezos, Michael Dell or Jeff Weiner, there is no doubt I have improved my leadership skills using this simple four-step process. Try these 4 simple steps if you want to become a better leader, golfer, pianist, sales person, or any other skill you want to learn.
That being said, I am going to share a little secret with you, KNOWLEDGE DOESN’T CREATE CHANGE. You have to have tenacity and the desire to develop your skills. So, it doesn’t matter if you are leading a team, leading yourself or leading your family you have to make the commitment to always be improving.
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.