In an interview with Lolly Daskal, A Role Model Who Uses Small Gestures In a Big Way, Doug Conant said it again:

“Successful leaders should treat their leadership as a craft to be carefully honed and ever improving. The better we become, the more our competence and depth of character combine to form the most helpful contributions moment to moment.” Huffington Post, October 31, 2013

Leadership CraftIn several different articles or interview clips, I have read and heard Doug say something very similar. “Leadership as a craft” is an interesting belief, raising two questions:

  • Is leadership a craft?
  • If it leadership is a craft, how do you hone it?

Is Leadership a Craft?

There was a time I didn’t believe leadership was a craft. As I read different articles and books on leadership and business, they all started to sound the same. The content had many high sounding words, echoing with little substance. Fluff some would call it.

My preference was history, biographies, and autobiographies. In these stories, real people made real difficult decisions and changed the course of history or direction for good or bad. In history, there is rhetoric to inspire but the words were backed with actions. If not, the story was of high aspirations and missed opportunities for real results.

History instructs. History refreshes so we don’t repeat mistakes, only if we listen. Understanding history is what makes leaders better.

Although I still believe the role of history in helping leaders sharpen their skills and insights, I have come around to the role of books, articles, and other content on the topics of leadership, strategy, culture, and more. What some books deliver is a new, improved way to solve problems, build engaging cultures, implement creative strategies, and lead in more effective ways. Maybe the leadership books have gotten better or my mind is just more open to learning the art of possibility.

I do believe leadership is a craft to ever improve. As Doug Conant said, leadership-as-craft helps us develop greater depth and competence to the content of our leadership character. History books deliver the depth and context to leading and leadership books deliver the revitalized possibilities of what can work well in a changing world.

How Do You Hone Your Leadership Craft?

We already covered reading as a way to hone your leadership craft so read often! Read a mix of books – fiction and non-fiction. No matter the book, there is some insight you will gain from it.

Other practices may be more personal in nature, meaning it is what will work for you in how you learn and how you broaden your perspective. Some suggestions are:

Start or join a Meetup group.

Over a year ago, we started Authentic Leadership Dallas. We now have 8-12 different people who get together monthly from across industries and backgrounds to share their insights and experiences. To get to this point took some time so don’t give up. The key is to engage in the community where you are. By doing this, you will become a better leader where you are.

Volunteer regularly.

Whatever the organization or initiative, working for a greater cause or helping others in need will make you a better leader. You will be challenged. Your heart will grow, and your mind will open. By volunteering, your leadership spirit will be reignited.

Exercise consistently.

A healthy body feeds a healthy mind and outlook. Fit leaders benefit from fit exercises. The exercises don’t have to be complex, just simply spend the time to take a walk or whatever works for you. There is a science to exercising in how it enhances your thinking. Keep moving, keep improving.

Interview someone you don’t know.

Through the telephone, Google Hangouts, or coffee conversations, get together with another leader and ask questions about what they have learned and how they have approached situations. People are generally open to sharing their leadership story. Be diverse in who you engage. Diversity of people strengthens your leadership capabilities. Keep engaging others so you can be an engaging leader.

Mentor ahead.

Identify one or two individuals from Gen Y and spend the time the guide their leadership development. Younger generations need a sounding board of experience, and you can provide that platform. Likewise, be mentored by an individual from Gen Y. Keeping your leadership perspective looking ahead is vital and learning from someone younger will open your mind and enhance your leadership skills. Keep guiding, be guided.

Leadership as a Craft

Doug Conant is right. Leadership is a craft. Treating leadership as a craft means we have to engage our core and work it out. Our leadership core consists of our mind, body, and soul. Each element is essential to leading more effectively. Each element needs to be honed while being opened up to new thoughts of what is possible and what needs to change in order to lead more deeply and more competently.

One caution: Don’t spend all your time on the sidelines learning your leadership craft without putting it into practice. Get in the arena and lead. Being in the arena, no matter where it is, will provide real advances to your leadership capabilities. Just be open to learning and adapting based on your arena-centered experiences.

How do you hone your leadership craft? Please share your practices.