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Where to Start Learning How to Lead

Have you started a new leadership role? Or maybe you want to revisit what you know about leadership skills. Here, Ron and Michelle discuss how to start learning how to lead.

Have you been assigned to lead a team? Maybe you felt comfortable with the work you’ve been doing, but have no idea how that will translate to leading others. Up until this point, you felt like you had all the skills to be good at your job. But now that you'll be leading projects and working with others, you feel like you have no idea what you're doing. You wish you could just do everyone's job yourself, but you don't have the capacity (even if you have the skills). So you'll have to start to delegate and trusting your team.

You might not realize it or feel it yet, but you are completely capable of leading. And you have probably been doing it in ways you might not even immediately recognize. 

Throughout her career, Michelle Mosolgo held executive level roles in Technology, Human Resources, and Corporate Entrepreneurship. She's known for discovering the amazing hidden talents in her team and mentored more than 25 successful business leaders

Ron Macklin realized early in his engineering career that he had a passion for building and leading teams. He went on to lead teams that set nine world records and won dozens of customer satisfaction awards. Twice Ron has created a growth culture responsible for increasing profits by $20 million, and has led seven different groups from worst- to best-in-class.

In this article, Michelle and Ron discuss where to start when you’re taking on a leadership role. 

What is Leadership?

Michelle Mosolgo: If you talk to 5 people and ask them what leadership is to them, you probably get 10 different answers. Ron, what is leadership to you?

Ron Macklin: Leadership, to me, is an action and a skill. Anything that produces an outcome or interpretation around what's happening is a leadership action or leadership move. And only if there is a follower, is there a leader.

Leadership is also about creating a story that enables you or somebody else to follow. You live a better life by following the story. It can be a story for yourself or it can be a story for somebody else. Because you can lead yourself, or you can lead somebody else in life. But when you or someone else listens to the story what is understood is, “if I follow that, I'll have a better life."

The fundamental behind this is, you can't create a space where anyone gets harmed by the story. So you can't be manipulative or tricking or anything like that. You need to be open, honest, and authentic.

It’s also important to know there's always bumps in the road. Then there's a space where you can say, “Okay, let's try a new story.” 

What do you need for effective leadership?

Ron: The first thing that is needed for effective leadership is being responsible. Most people intertwine responsibility and blame. This can show up as: "Well, if I'm responsible, then that means they can blame me." Yes, and no. Being responsible means taking responsibility for making sure something happens. It doesn't mean you get it right the first time or even the second time, or the third time. But you're going to be responsible for it happening. 

Another component of effective leadership is to know how to be a great follower.

Being a great follower means you're looking at what stories are being offered and saying, "yeah, I can see how that could work" versus "I can see how that won't work.” Does that mean it will always work? No. But, if you flat out say it won't work, it really won't work. If you say it will work, it's got a shot.

So being a great follower is being able to shape the stories in your head while you're listening to somebody and accept, “I think I can see how this could work.”

Where do you start with learning to be a leader?

Michelle: If I want to be a leader, I can go out and read some leadership books and all sorts of things. But where do I start? You know you talked about leading yourself? Is that where you start? Do you have to start there? And what sort of progression is there if you want to lead?

Ron: The first step is leading yourself and following yourself. That's all part of the same thing. And then following others. Then you go out and practice leading others.

The first place I would recommend anybody to start is with yourself. That is being a leader of yourself and being a follower of yourself. Then craft the narratives, knowing that you won't get it right, knowing that you will screw it up. And you will learn, right? The only learning that really matters, is what you do on the field, on the court, in the world. The learning really happens with things that have real consequences, like income and profitability. So if you're going to lead yourself, lead yourself in those situations. Make them public. "I'm leading myself in this domain." Speak it out loud. "I'm following myself in this domain." Speak it out loud.

The second step after you've led and followed yourself is to turn yourself into a follower of others. Make them great leaders. It's a different skill. It's seeing them as the leader. It's noticing them speaking as a leader. It's being willing to help out. It's knowing when to have a conversation in public, because you want to bring forth something for the whole group. Or when to have a conversation in private, because you're just going to lead that person in the conversation.

And then you'll notice yourself, and you'll notice them, in such a different way. So when you go to lead other people you will have that experience to know what it feels like.

Leading is about crafting stories that the other person can hold and they will want to follow. If you don't have the empathy for what the stories are in the followers' heads, you're just really just shooting in the dark. There's no way to know how it's going to land and how they're going to hear it.

So, once you become a good follower, you have the understanding of what the other person is going to feel as you speak because you've already experienced it. When you see their facial expressions, you can go, "I know that facial expression. You're confused. I know the facial expression here - scared." Because you felt those same expressions. For most of us, all of our emotions are on our face. If we take the time to learn what it feels like for us, we can know what the other person is going to be feeling as well. And then you can begin dancing with them in a way that they can go, "I want to follow you, because what you're saying makes sense. I can make this work."

How can you start leading others?

If you are leading others for the first time, or even wanting to refine the leadership skills you’ve been working on, you might not know where to begin. There are so many resources about leadership and how to cultivate leadership skills. The easiest way to begin approaching leadership is by starting with yourself and knowing you are good enough to lead others.

Of course, books and classes and videos can help you in this journey. But starting to lead yourself and taking responsibility for how you are crafting your life will begin to translate to an ability to do this with other people. And getting out in life (or “on the field” as Ron says) to actually practice leading yourself and others will help build your confidence in your leadership skills.  

It’s ok if you mess up - it’s all an experiment. And you can try something new the next time and continue to learn what works for you and what needs modifying. 

We'd love to connect with you about what you are noticing about leadership and how it shows up in your own life. If you are interested in continuing the conversation, you can join us in our online community to access even more content and connect with others. In our community, you can explore articles centered around sharing vulnerable, authentic stories to help you start to create the life you want. You can also access a library of courses and build connections with others who want to change the world one relationship at a time.

If you would like to listen to Michelle and Ron’s full conversation about leadership, you can find it here