With thanks to @VinceMolinaro of Knightsbridge for causing me to laugh uproariously when I read this an hour or so ago!

Although some might say this is a crude expression, I think it is a great brass tacks, where the rubber meets the road type of question that should provoke a hell of a lot of thought in any leader.  In my experience, I would venture to say that anyone who bothers to give more than a passing thought to this is already a good leader.  Typically, they are the ones who subscribe to the mantra “the more one knows, the more one doesn’t know”.  (Sadly, it is often those who most need to ask themselves such a question who don’t!)   It goes without saying that a certain degree of confidence and self assured-ness is necessary in order to willingly seek out and recognize developmental gaps and subsequent areas of focus.

No matter on what rung of the management ladder you find yourself, you can only grow as a leader if you are open to doing so.  After all, it was a rather iconic spokesman in the form of J.F. Kennedy who said “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”.

I can see Molinaro’s question forming the basis of an insightful exercise in self reflection and leading to many more sub questions providing valuable intel to those willing to “accept this mission”.

What  is a good leader?   Who says I am one?  Who would say I’m not?  When am I a better leader?  Why is it important to me to be a better leader? What will it cost me if I’m not?  What will it cost my organization?  Where can I get help to be a better leader?  What do I need to start doing? Stop doing? Do more of?  What do I admire about your predecessor?  What do I resent?

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, I suspect it could  get you going on a path of reflective reckoning.  Except for one small problem.

How many leaders take the time (and take we must since there is no making time) to give themselves the gift of pause?  To actually begin a process that definitely involves thinking first  and talking second.  Talking to our direct reports. peers, bosses and clients via a 360 instrument, to our mentors, coaches and other trusted advisors and maybe even our self!

Although there are few leaders I have worked with who would argue taking time to think about their own leadership practices is a bad thing, most would admit they don’t even do it on an ad hoc basis much less systematically.   For those who do, this habit pays dividends.

Since we know that a habit takes 21 days to become embedded, what specific steps have my successful clients taken?

  • They block off time in their weekly schedule to think and treat it as they would a meeting with their CEO or DG.  They don’t short change themselves by cancelling ‘them self’.
  • Some leave their office and even their building and walk while they think.  This is scientifically proven to double the benefits!
  • Many journal.  Imagine having written documentation to look back on and learn from time and time again…priceless.
  • They schedule dedicated conversations with trusted advisors.
  • They set aside three hours a month to participate as a member of an action learning set (more on that next week).

So tell me, as a leader, what do you do take the time to continually ‘sharpen your saw’?