Leadership’s Prerequisite

On any given day, you’ll find thousands of people spending time on improving their golf swing. Yet, how many people are doing the same for their “leadership swing”?

Harry S. Truman said that “not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”. I’d like to replace “readers” with “learners”. Not all learners are leaders, but all leaders are learners. In fact, truly great leaders are voracious learners; insatiable; almost gluttonous! I believe strongly that personal development must precede organizational development; your organization will grow at the same rate as your own personal growth.

So, the question is “what are my available sources of learning” and “where can I find them”? This story should provide a hint:

Years ago, I was working with Canada’s largest independent petroleum distributor where I conducted a research project within that organization. The research was aimed at identifying leadership development strategies for its current and future leaders. I had the opportunity to tour many of its offices, interviewing leaders at all levels; from functional and regional managers, directors and right up to the CEO. Part of the data that I had gathered beforehand, was their formal education level. This included college and university, but also included one-off courses, short programs, certifications, and training internal to their organization; anything that was formally delivered with intention to develop their leadership capabilities.

During the interviews, with this data in mind, I asked each of them what their most significant source of learning was, formal or informal, when it came to leadership capability. Without exception, every single person that I interviewed cited the very same source. The answer was the informal, on-the-job experiences. Therefore, one of my top recommendation resulting from the research was the introduction of formal coaching processes within the organization. If we don’t this, we are missing the single biggest opportunity for individual and organizational growth.

Now, we can capture this opportunity to improve organizational leadership through the application of various methodologies. Whether it’s an Improvement Routine as I’ve been developing and delivering, the Coaching Kata as Mike Rother has authored, or the concepts of developing a learning organization as many authors have described for many years now. The exact approach or method is less important as the outcome. The important part is creating the habits within your organization that support increased learning from day-to-day activities, both for the organization and the individual. Most often, this will involve appropriate coaching. Not advice or mentorship; coaching! I would implore you learn more about these approaches and begin applying them if you’re not already.

There are methods to improve organizational leadership, such as The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Traction, and Toyota Kata, which all espouse the same valuable concept. But how do we apply this to ourselves as leaders? After all, personal growth must precede organizational growth. How can we, as individual leaders, learn more purposefully from our day-to-day experiences? The answer, I believe, is in under-utilized process of reflection.

I believe we need to put more effort toward pausing to explore our actions and behaviours that are driving our outcomes as leaders. To do this, we need to create habits that allow us to reflect on our beliefs and assumptions. For me this is a lot of reading, and it is also writing. This helps me explore my thoughts and consider why my actions were or were not effective and inherently changes my subsequent behaviours and actions. For others, these habits of reflection could come from watching TED talks, or journaling, or designated time alone for uninterrupted thought.

So, with an over-abundance of leadership books, courses, and other materials available to you, I will simplify my message and simply say this:

Whatever it is for you that provides you the opportunity to learn on a regular basis, identify it. I challenge you to create that habit, learn more about yourself, and improve your own leadership skills. If you do this, you will, by default, also improve the leadership within your organization.

If you would like to learn how executive coaching can supercharge your learning efforts, learn more here:

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  • Each and every session was very thought-provoking and really put me to task with challenging myself to think deeply. Kevin’s coaching to think about ‘why’ and ‘where did that come from’ along with coaching on how to handle those ‘difficult’ situations resulted in some very useful tools to create my new ‘default patterns’. A very sincere thank you!

    – Vandana Paliwal