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5 Steps to Transform Leadership Theory into Practice

LeadershipMost of us have read numerous books on leadership development theory, because they are excellent resources that offer valuable insights. However, you need to do more than just read and understand these books for them to have any real value. You need to be personally inspired and motivated to get the most out of such personal success literature. Basically, you have to walk the walk. Embody the teachings found in these books and demonstrate positive leadership behavior every single day. The question is: how?

As everyone knows, old habits die hard. Changing behavior is frustratingly challenging, even if the habits you are trying to adopt are positive. That’s why it’s extremely useful to have a roadmap. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Here are five steps that can guide you in successfully adopting positive leadership behaviors to transform yourself into an authentic leader.

  1. Make a list of people you admire – and those you don’t. What qualities, values, or traits do these people embody or lack? What are their strengths and developmental opportunities? Challenge yourself to take a closer look at how your strengths and weaknesses align (or don’t) with theirs. The more positive qualities you have in common, the higher your chances of success.
  2. Read a biography about someone who inspires you. Biographies often touch our emotions and can be even more transformative than business books. They offer an opportunity to see principles from the leadership theories you have studied put “into action” by individuals you look up to.
  3. Create leadership goals and share them with others. Simply making a list of goals without follow-through will fail every time. Share your goals with someone who can help keep you accountable. As you articulate your goals, think about the “big picture.” Where do you want to go? What do you want to achieve? What are your unique leadership strengths?
  4. Incorporate new behaviors. Every day is a new chance to adopt more integrity, to be more collaborative and to become more strategic. Start by creating a list of behaviors, review it daily and make them consistent practice by keeping track of positive changes. It may even be helpful to include them in your overall leadership goals list.
  5. Embrace criticism. Ask those you work with for an informal critique of your technical competencies and personal behavior. By waiting for the obligatory annual review, you may miss a perfect opportunity to shine brighter or change directions in your approach. Self-awareness is key.

Congratulations, you’ve now established a path. Here are actions you can continue to take to help strengthen your leadership skills:

  • Find your “discomfort” zone. No successful leader got to where they are without accepting and learning from personal challenges. For some, this might mean facing the fear of public speaking by doing a presentation. For others, it might mean volunteering for an assignment or project in an area in which they are not content experts. Only you know what actions would be most beneficial for your personal growth but, through practice, you will gain confidence.
  • Keep a positive attitude. People are naturally attracted to individuals with positive outlooks on life. Turns out, having a positive attitude can also attract exciting opportunities and possibilities. If you want to become a better leader, work on modeling positivity.
  • Become a lifelong learner. Great leaders never settle for where they are and are always pushing themselves to learn more. But it’s not out of duty—it’s because they are passionate about learning. Keep learning. Embody new behaviors. Repeat.
  • Focus on interpersonal skills. Leaders don’t fail because of a lack of technical knowledge or experience—they derail because they lack interpersonal competence.True leadership is in the doing, not the knowing. Repetitive practice is necessary to hone authentic leadership skills.  It will take patience, but mapping your path and consistently exhibiting positive behaviors will get you where you want to go.  

Leadership books are a great first step to understanding leadership theories. There are far too many great leadership books to list in this blog post. However, a few deserve mentioning. The Situational Leader by Dr. Paul Hershey outlines how to adjust your style to meet the needs of those you lead; how to develop people; how to determine readiness; and what to do when performance wanes. Another book I often refer to is Transformational Leadership by Bernard Bass. It outlines a concept based on the leader collaborating with employees in order to identify what needs to be changed, developing a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and implementing said vision.

Donna W. Salter, Senior Manager - Young Member Initiatives, American Institute of CPAs. 

Leadership word cloud courtesy of Shutterstock.

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