I have recently begun working with a new crop of emerging leaders on a two year leadership development program.  Emerging leaders are my favourite ‘subset’ of the management group.  After I completed the requirements for my Certified Executive Coach certification, I was of course asked if I would now move ‘up’ the ranks to coaching Executives.

I would not necessarily not work with Executives (with apologies to Sister Mary Catherine for the double negative!) but truth be told, I really do love my emerging leaders.  They are so open to learning, constructive feedback and trying new-to-them leadership and management skills and techniques-what’s not to love?!

There is so much to learn when embarking on the management path that it can seem overwhelming and the question invariably comes up: ” Where do I start? Everything is important”.  In my experience, there are two activities all emerging leaders should start with.

The first is to read what I consider the quintessential book on leadership, ‘It’s Your Ship’ by Michael Abrashoff.  The now retired Commander Abrashoff chronicles how he took the USS Benfold, the worst performing ship in the American naval fleet, to first place within just a couple of years…and as an aside, at the tender age of 36 to boot

When he assumed command, he brought with him a personal philosophy which I can’t help think is likely not shared by many.  He came in believing he didn’t have all the answers.  This humble approach is a precursor to listening.  And listen he did because he asked lots of questions!  He met with each of the 300 sailors on board and asked them three questions: Why did you join the Navy? What do you like to do? What one thing would you change or do differently that would increase efficiency? (For those of you taking notes, look at all those great  “W” words which denote an open question which means lots of information will be forthcoming!)

Whenever I am working with new leaders, I tell the story of the USS Benfold and encourage them to read his book.  (If only I got a royalty for each referral!)  The first person I told this story to was Antoine while he was on assignment in my office. After he moved on six or so months later, I received the best ever email from him.  He told me how in his new assignment he had seven direct reports and almost 200 indirect reports.  Within his first week after he had met with the seven, he started booking meetings with all his indirect reports.  What was the initial reaction of everyone around him? We have never done that here.

You can imagine how thrilled I was to hear he was spreading the gospel of Abrashoff by introducing not just a ‘technique’ but a new way of being that had the potential to influence the organization’s culture even beyond Antoine’s tenure.  What a legacy for a new leader…or a seasoned one for that matter!

So of course I told the new recruits this story and since they were all eager to read it, we will be holding a peer learning circle to discuss it.  I can’t wait!

The second activity I highly recommend is journaling.  Of course I think it would be great for experienced leaders too and as it is something that requires discipline, far better to get into the habit early.

I suspect when many people hear the term journaling they may think diary and get a visual of a tiny pink book with a lock on it. The grown up version of this is actually a powerful tool that can help one get clarity, identify blind spots, pinpoint new ideas and analyze issues that may be sticking points.

I didn’t really need to be convinced of its merits because I actually enjoy writing -once I get going I mean!  Since this is probably a huge stumbling block for many aspiring journal-lers, here are a few tips that have worked for me:

  • Write fast and don’t worry about spelling and grammar (forgive me again, Sister Mary Catherine!) These musings are  for your eyes only so ignore your inner critic. The purpose isn’t a spot on the New York Best Seller list. It’s for you to reflect and get to know yourself, your defaults and where you want to stretch.
  • Find the tool that works for you and you are more likely to sustain the practice. The medium is the message said Marshall McLuhan so whether your medium is a bound, hardcover journal with inspirational sayings, a Hilroy notebook or typing into a Word document or creating Powerpoint slides, it matters not.
  • Find the best time for you.  I tend to be a before bed writer but some people are much more inspired first thing in the morning…egads!  Whenever it is though, experience has shown me that a routine will likely be very helpful in getting and keeping going.
  • A daily journal really isn’t a laundry list of everything you did, saw or ate that day. (Although Weight Watchers swears by the weight loss benefits of keeping a food journal!) If you aren’t sure where to start,sometimes questions can be great prompts. What did I learn today? What am I most proud of? What do I wish I had a “do-over” on? How about what you are grateful for or what you used to believe? Questions such as these can serve to capture areas of self improvement, help you remember things you forgot you did, and over time, help you see patterns you can learn from on your leadership journey or life journey for that matter.

If those aren’t enough intriguing reasons to get you journaling, then consider that medical research has shown there are actual health benefits to this practice.  Patients with chronic pain and immune issues who spent time journaling actually showed a decrease in their symptoms…who knew?

As for this new gang, I gave them their own journal and recommended they start a leadership learning journal.  Although I won’t be collecting or correcting them, I am hopeful that they will see the benefit for themselves.

I’m honoured to be working with such a great group of leaders…let the learning begin!