By Bradley Chisholm
Imagine walking into the dressing room of the Team Canada Olympic hockey team, dragging Sidney Crosby out to the luge track, throwing him onto a sled and expecting him to win gold. We would never do it. We would never take someone who was fully immersed and masterful in his sport, throw him into an arena totally foreign, and expect the same level of mastery. We would never do it in sport, but we do it in our professional organizations all the time.
We take our high-performing lawyers and doctors out of their courtrooms and operating rooms – the arenas where they have pursued mastery — we add the word “managing” or “chief” to their business card and then wonder why our teams lack leadership. There is a significant disconnect between the value we put on the quality of leadership — the culture of our organization, vision, engagement of the team — vs. the time, resources and support we devote to intentionally developing the leaders of our teams. We expect them to jump in and perform as masterful leaders.
There are a couple disruptive mental models at work here:
1. The only valuable learning is technical learning. A common theme we have experienced is that worthwhile learning in a professional environment needs to focus solely on the substantive disciplines of that profession. Lawyers learn about new legislation and case law; doctors learn about new medical developments; designers learn about exciting industry innovation. Creating opportunities for learning around disciplines that would position professionals to begin their leadership practice is often considered an expensive investment not connected to the core business.
2. Leaders are born. We carry around the idea that some people are born to be leaders and others must be content to follow. With this mindset, we can see why “leadership development” becomes a process of identifying those who exhibit what we believe leadership needs to be and then throwing them down the icy track (kicking and screaming if we have to).
What is possible when these mental models begin to shift? We have had the privilege of working with Mentors who have instilled in us the belief that leadership is a choice and a practice. We each have the ability to choose leadership, and by doing so, we choose to begin to learn and practice methods, tools and skills that will help us become stronger in a leadership role. These practices are different than our professional practices (for some professions very different), and therefore the learning is different too.
If you are a professional moving into a leadership role, you may have to fight for the learning opportunities you need to get better at your leadership. You may be the only one in the office immersing yourself in this different type of learning — and often it means setting your professional practice aside to make space for the new.
For many, moving into leadership does not just involve setting aside a practice, but setting aside something we are masterful at. Over a lifetime we get the chance to become masterful in a collection of things . . . and it’s all in the combination. Think of the stories we can make happen in our professional organizations, in our families and in our communities if one of the masteries we have chosen is leading self and leading others.
Like a longtime skier learning how to snowboard for the first time, there are going to be some bruises and sore muscles, but it’s worth it in the end.
Bradley Chisholm is a former p artner of Roy Group now serving as the Chief Officer, Strategy and Governance for the BC College of Nursing Professionals