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A Simple Word Exercise to Develop Leadership

August 13, 2014 • Uncategorized
Photo credit: Lead Beyond

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” The schoolboys in “Dead Poets Society” learned that from their teacher—played by Robin Williams. His character inspired as a leader who was intent on developing leadership and critical thinking in his students.

Reflecting on this amazing performance after Williams’ recent death, I’m struck by how leadership rests on the fundamentals of communication: the words we choose that represent the ideas that we believe in.

Working with coaches who may be new to their sports teams (such as a session I did at Georgia Tech recently) or managers who are newly supervising a corporate team, I often turn to a simple word exercise that helps these men and women establish a philosophy of leadership. It’s easy to replicate for any leader who wants to drill down to what is most distinctly their leadership style, and find the focus for his or her team to move forward together.

Leadership Values Card Sort

  1. The coach or manager starts with a set of index cards. Each card has a value on it (empathy, integrity, passion, loyalty, etc.). Our sets have about 60 cards.
  2. Keeping an open mind, each person uses the cards to answer the question, “What are the values supporting my leadership?” Each card belongs in one of these piles: A) values that are most important to your leadership; B) values that are not important to your leadership; and C) everything else.
  3. Take the “A” pile (values that are most important). At most, this pile should have five cards. If you have more than that, narrow your choices by asking:
    • Is this value essential to who I am as a leader?
    • Does it compel me even in the face of adversity?
  4. These cards represent your five (or fewer) core values that ground your leadership philosophy. Keep these handy.
  5. On paper, make a list of the core values you selected. Beside each one, define it in your own words. What does it mean to you?
  6. For each value, describe an example of how you have demonstrated, or will demonstrate, this value in your role as a leader.
  7. Share these values with someone you trust, and keep honing these until they are sharply focused and can be shared with your team members.

It may sound almost too simple, but the reason this exercise is powerful is that the decisions necessary to complete this task are what leaders must do as a matter of course. Each coach or manager learns:

  1. No leader can value everything, or the team would be overloaded, confused and unfocused.
  2. Choosing core values involves critical thinking. Practicing this clarity through this exercise builds confidence for crisis leadership.
  3. Determining core values is the first step to communicating core values. Find your brand then market it.

Keep your card deck! Another beauty of this exercise is that you can and will want to repeat it periodically. We are all dynamic humans, constantly in motion fueled by our inner motivations and external stimuli. As a result, our leadership style evolves over time.

Bonus Exercise: Developing Leadership Influences

One’s leadership style is never created in a vacuum. We are influenced by other people and groups and by our own experiences and personalities.

  1. Write down one example of a person, place or situation that positively influenced you as a leader.
  2. Write a similar example of a person, place or situation that negatively influenced you as a leader.
  3. Analyze how both influenced your leadership philosophy. All of your experiences and relationships shape who you are as a leader today.

Your Game Changer Takeaway

The two exercises are your research. Now craft a personal leadership statement. It can include how you lead, what you value, what you expect from team members, what you do not accept, and/or what type of environment you are committed to creating. The more concise your statement, the more likely you are to use it as a leadership compass. Remember, leadership is dynamic and this statement may very well evolve over time. Repeat these exercises to keep refining your leadership philosophy.

The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company offers training and coaching programs to help leaders unleash their potential, including: Game Changer Negotiation Training, which teaches business people a framework for successful negotiating; The Energized Leader training, which teaches people how to manage their energy to achieve focus and freedom; and a monthly coaching program, Game Changer Leadership Huddles, to help members recharge their purpose and mindset. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.