Leadership Experience: Where Do Theory and Reality Meet?

Learn Lead

I continue to read and learn from various articles, blogs and books on the subject of leadership. There really is an unlimited supply of material for us to read!

And reading new content provides the opportunity for our thoughts and actions to be challenged.

New Points of View

New challenges to our thinking occurs when we see examples of theoretical context provided that relate to leadership application and effectiveness in practice.

There is a definite place for the theory of leadership. Without it, the same ideas and concepts continue to be generated and espoused by a variety of authors, learning little beyond that which has been distributed for some years.

  • However, I wonder how important the theoretical content is compared to the ability and experience gained through practical leadership?
  • Where is the balance between testing your own thinking through reading, seeking answers, being mentored and the opportunity and ability to put leadership into practice?

Developing Future Leaders

Questions such as these are particularly relevant for those of us who work in the field of developing and coaching future leaders. At some point there has to be a practical level of experience gained through leading others to test and try out the theories and concepts.

This is where real, entrenched learning occurs.

The relevance of learning and continually developing your ability is very important in many aspects of our lives, including when learning to become a leader. The potential to lead exists in you.

(People) learn to be better leaders as long as they engage in activities that help them learn how. Because to master leadership you have to have a strong desire to excel, you have to believe strongly that you can learn new skills and abilities, and you have to be willing to devote yourself to continuous learning and deliberate practice. No matter how good you are, you can always get better. ~The Truth About Leadership, Kouzes and Posner

The How of Leadership

It is the ‘how’ leadership growth and effectiveness occurs that intrigues me. In addition to the broad elements of leadership success already highlighted, various attitudes and behaviors are predominant in those who I have seen and/or helped to succeed in leading others.

When the right attitudes and behaviors are more apparent in an upcoming leader, the base for development appears to be exponentially greater.

The starting point is much more solid, providing improved opportunity to succeed as a leader:

  • The willingness and ability to assist others and their development through teaching, guiding and mentoring provides a ‘win-win’ in that the teacher and student have opportunity to learn and test ideas.
  • By giving in terms of mentoring and coaching I have learned much about myself, human behaviour and organisational culture.
  • Connectedness, trust and the ability to build genuine relationships form the basis for developing people.
  • The desire to make a difference is inherent.
  • Exposure  to a large variety of people and conducting open conversations are a wonderful platform for learning generally, particularly in a leadership and business environment. Sadly, this is not the norm. Making sure that diversity is a benefit within a culture or team, not a negative.
  • People are often fearful of sharing, preferring to hide their honest views and develop a strategy of shielding others from the ‘real’ them. Often this is exaggerated within the leader-employee context. Breaking down this resistance and earning the right to ask and listen is a key requirement for this relationship to foster change.

Maximizing Leadership

We learn through reading, observing, succeeding, failing and tackling the many other opportunities that arise through our work and outside commitments.

The opportunities to grow are maximised through practice and application.

To the original point though,  the need to practically apply the learning is an imperative to truly master any skill, as is certainly the case with leadership. We all have opportunities to develop and portray leadership in many aspects of our lives, both formally and informally, in and out of the workplace.

Applied Leadership

The theoretical tenets  of leadership do not replace the need to apply leadership principles in practice. Real experience in leading people, influencing, feeling genuine growth and embedding of knowledge is the result of both theory and practice.

Learning to lead is the outcome of various inputs and contributions, but whatever your official role, it starts with your attitude to learning and willingness to dedicate yourself to the art and science of leadership.

You must have the attitude of a leader to become a leader.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Steve Riddle

Steve Riddle is the owner of CoachStation
He is making a difference by focusing on leadership & people development
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Skype: steve.riddle36

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Leadership Guidance: As Parents and Mentors

Handwritten Letter

Leadership points to ponder for teenagers are just as relevant to adults, especially new leaders, viewed via a father’s letter to a teen.

A Father’s Letter

Today you turn 13 years old. I am amazed at how quickly this time has gone and the next 10 years will fly by as well. Then you will be well into your 20’s, however there is a lot that you will see, hear and be tempted by during this time. Much of it will be wonderful, inspiring and of great benefit to you and how you are seen and interact with others.

There will also be some potential pitfalls and challenges, many of which you will not see coming. That is OK. Our job is not to wrap in you cotton balls or bubble-wrap, protecting you from what are ultimately learning opportunities. Our role is and has always been to help you through these times, to support you (always!) and guide you where we can.

1) Keep talking to us. Even in those times when you are angry, frustrated or disappointed, we will always listen to you and provide help where we can. If you don’t want to share with your Mum or I, then seek help from others – whoever you feel comfortable with. Don’t dwell on issues or let them fester.

2) Choose your friends wisely. Who you spend your time with reflects on you and will certainly influence who you become, both good qualities and bad. You have some lovely friends now. Support them, be kind and know that with all relationships, just like ours, you will have ups and downs along the way. That is OK – in fact it is expected. It is during these times that you will learn who your good and true friends are and also how you are perceived by them, which will be revealed through your actions and theirs.

3) Keep a broad level of interests in many things as you already have shown and put into practice. The skills, passion, diversity of thought, leadership exposure and opportunities provide one of the great bases for much of how you will make choices in coming years.

4) Don’t worry about trying to be cool or liked. It is a bit clichéd in the adult world now, unfortunately, but it does not take away from the fact that ultimately being respected is harder to achieve but has greater meaning and purpose.

5) Know what you are passionate about. As an adult you will know that passion is critical, however many people of all ages struggle to define this. One of the first questions I ask my clients when coaching is: what are you passionate about? It is surprising how many people cannot answer this easily. Follow your passions; make sure they form part of what you do and who you are and if you can, build it into your work-life as you get older. This may not be clear for some years, which is OK, but keep it in mind.

6) Role model the best behaviours. We do not expect you to be perfect. Neither your Mum or I are, as you know. We all have strengths and faults, but none of them should stop you from trying to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. I have found over the years that putting other’s needs ahead of your own is one of the most fulfilling aspects of life and most rewarding behaviours you can possess. Others will respect you for it.

7) As much as possible, remove assumption from situations and your thinking. Consider alternatives and think broadly – make this a habit. I see too many people place their own ideals and values on others and fail to see the bigger pictures and/or other people’s perspective. This relates to emotional intelligence and empathy – both things we will talk more about later.

8) Speaking of values and trust, earn the trust of others through what you say and most importantly back it up with what you do. If you commit to do something, do it. Meet your deadlines and continue to challenge yourself. Over time, learn what is most important to you (I will continue to help you with this) and maintain these values through how you portray yourself and decisions you make. Values are the absolute platform to work from as a person – know what yours are and develop a solid base to build upon as you reach adult-hood. Know who you are and stay true to your values!

9) Don’t be in a hurry to grow up. There are many benefits to the modern world, however one of the downsides in my opinion is the exposure to so much, so quickly. There is no doubt that 13 is the new 16 when I compare your life now to my childhood and teenage years. My big tip – not everything that is fun and worth doing has a screen attached or needs to be plugged in. Get outside often. Try new things.

10) Communication. It would be a surprise to some of your age that communication initially was through symbols and eventually the spoken word. Technology and newer methods of communication continue to challenge effective communication. As a result much of this is changing, however the written word remains a core component and has abundant power and authority. Also, continue to develop your speaking skills. They will hold you in good stead throughout your life. You have learned to spell and use grammar correctly. There is nothing more off-putting than seeing the poor English skills all too prominent online. Sadly, this is often reflected in important text such as resume’s and business documents. I thnk u no wat I meen!!!

11) Reading is the gift that keeps on giving. We love that you are a keen reader. Knowledge and understanding has always been and will be one of the great attributes. It enables you to form your own views and opinions based on various aspects from different perspectives. Just because it is written does not necessarily make it true. What it does do is provide depth of knowledge, varying perspectives and counter-arguments.  I love my Kindle as you do too…but keep on interspersing the traditional, physical book occasionally with the eBook, as you already do.

12) Finally, much of what I have mentioned in this list comes down to values and respect. Respect for your family and how we love one another because we are family but also because of how we treat each other. Continue to work on this – both how you respect yourself and others. Respect property – your own and that of others; respect the opportunities provided to you and those earned by you; do not take anything you have in this world for granted – there are no guarantees they will always be there and many people are not so fortunate.

We hope that this list, although not definitive, makes sense now and in the future. Life is wonderful. Life is challenging. These points may assist you and will probably become more relevant and meaningful over the next few years.

Do what you will with the words – words that have real meaning to us, more than just script on a page – and understand they will continue to form the themes for how we will support and help you, as we have in your first 13 years.


Mum and Dad xxx


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Steve Riddle

Steve Riddle is the owner of CoachStation
He is making a difference by focusing on leadership & people development
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Skype: steve.riddle36

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On Leadership, Management and Effectively Using Data

Hammering Employees

Every leader needs the right set of business tools to do their job well. The be effective, they also need to be well-trained and well-versed on how to use their tools.

However, always remember that tools, in and of themselves, are only a means to an end. The “hammer is not the house.”

Understanding the Bigger Picture

Simply obtaining, having, or effectively using the next fancy gadget or process is not an actual outcome or result; this is just part of the recipe for success.

Unfortunately, many leaders lose sight of this and feel like using a tool somehow equates to producing results.

I have seen many leaders and businesses stick to the idea that introducing or expanding the technology, materials, software and hardware will automatically lead to improved customer satisfaction, employee engagement or similar benefits.

To be fair, in some instances there is a direct correlation between tools, data and outcomes. However this is rarely the case when people are involved. People are not commodities and “crunching the numbers” on them has many flaws. Unlike things and processes, people are dynamic, they have emotions, and they connect with each other in many ways.

What you will get, with absolute certainty, is more information and data. Is that valuable? Well that depends on how it is used.

Connecting With People

How we connect with our teams and provide opportunity for them to contribute is a key factor in engaging our employees. This type of data – the type that allows us to understand each team member as a person is the most valuable information.

But, it is also often the most difficult to collect.

Trust, skill in building relationships, various leadership attributes, and other capabilities all provide a base to understand others

But these are challenging to build and develop.

Getting Deeper with People

I recently read a blog written by Mary-Jo Asmus titled, Go Beyond First Impressions To Better Understand Others.

Mary Jo wrote this:

Many of you rely on facts and data to make your decisions. Relying on facts is a natural outcome of the times we live in and what kind of knowledge we appreciate. Yet, there are times when facts and data can’t tell a full story — perhaps we don’t have the right facts, or we are unable to obtain enough data.

People are like that. True “data” about their motivations, inspiration, values and emotions (to name but a few things that aren’t immediately apparent or predictable) aren’t always visible.

Deciphering Data

There are two related yet clearly defined points I am making here. One, is the reference to business data – customer satisfaction scores, conversion rates, profit etc. There are numerous tools, software, roles and programs designed to collect this type of information.

Then, there is the data about people.

As Mary Jo acknowledged, understanding the motivations, values and beliefs of each employee is a different level of data again.

The perceived need to seek ‘all’ the right information before making decisions can lead to paralysis by analysis, where the feeling of being overwhelmed becomes so great that the brain simply stops functioning with clarity.

The risk we have in our modern world is:

  • The proliferation of data
  • Availability and accessibility of information
  • The emergence of Big Data

All of this may actually do the opposite of what is intended. More information does not automatically lead to greater success. The tools we use to gather and collect information are just that, tools. The information and data in itself is just information.

People are People

This is made even more complex by the fact that human beings are quite unpredictable and are certainly not static like most business data. We have emotional and psychological needs, wants, highs, lows and complexity. There are various aspects of our world today that seemingly conspire against consistency and predictability, but that is what makes leadership so exciting.

To meet the challenges head-on and succeed is very rewarding.

The highlights of my career and life have been those times where great impact has been felt through my relationships. This is often most powerful when ‘turning around’ a difficult or failing situation.

I take the view that the tools in themselves assist to reach the end goal…how they are applied and used to advantage is the critical point. Hence, my ‘hammer is not a house’ statement.

Breaking It Down

This is not an attempt at being cryptic, rather a statement that reflects a strong view that I have based on previous experiences.

Knowledge management and our ability as leaders to dissect the vast amount of data available, so that we are able to break it down into the key one or two points or insights, is critical to effectiveness.

Confusing and overwhelming our team members with enormous amounts of un-collated and indiscriminate data adds little value. In fact, it is a key source of frustration for many employees, adding to the risk of  disengagement and reduced discretionary effort.

Self-awareness and knowing our strengths and limitations is critical here. Taking the time and making the effort to genuinely develop yourself and those in your circle of influence is rewarding and a core component of your role as a leader.

Using Your Tools Effectively

Finding other people who can support this growth and assist where there are gaps is effective time-management and allows you to focus on the key priorities.

There’s an old saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem tends to look like a nail.

Fight that kind of thinking as much as you can. Your plan may call for expertise you don’t have, or actions you aren’t very good at. So make some room in your plan to partner with someone else.

If you’re great at connecting with customers but lousy at technology, find a partner whose strengths and weaknesses perfectly complement yours. Believe me, that person is out there and wants desperately to work with you. ~ Copyblogger

Don’t get caught up in the numbers, excessive information and data. If it is not easily translated, of use and easy to articulate to your team, then forget it.

A hammer is not a house! So don’t pretend that the hammer you currently own is the only tool you need.

So, how many tools in your toolbox do you know how to use effectively? How many of them are used by you as a hammer when they are not designed to be used like one? How can you use your current and future tools in ways that help you best optimize your organizational health? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today.
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Steve Riddle

Steve Riddle is the owner of CoachStation
He is making a difference by focusing on leadership & people development
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Skype: steve.riddle36

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How Leadership and Culture Impact Business Profit

Business Culture

Business exists solely to make a profit! Controversial? Possibly….

But this is worth investigating because I feel this point is critical to business and personal success. And it is in some ways counter-intuitive to what many of us have been led to believe.

It is also not my view.

The Purpose Of Business

A few months ago I read a quote that I understand was attributed to Bill Gates. It contained several points related to business and the context of how an employee should ‘feel’ about working for a business.

Essentially, the argument that business exists primarily to make a profit was the premise.

Now, whether this statement reflects on Bill Gates or Microsoft positively or negatively is not my point.

I  consider that business exists for other reasons. Whilst researching this blog I came across literally hundreds of sites and quotes arguing that business should exist for a higher purpose. Fair enough but not really my point either…well, not entirely.

Making a Profit

Since reading this initial statement, I have been uncomfortable with the proposition.  I see profit as an outcome of many decisions, culture, processes, engagement and other core elements influenced by business leaders every day.  Among other contributions,  leadership is most critical to engagement, effectiveness and ultimately a strong influence on profit.

So, how do you influence leadership effectiveness and how is it linked to profit?

To provide some context, I recently left full-time employment to start my own consulting and people development business. I have already made mistakes. I am sure there will be plenty more. But, one thing I am very clear about is the reasons my business exists and appeals to myself and others.

The reasons why I am confident of success remain the same as what has driven my achievements and satisfaction in the business world for the past 25 years.

I understand and live my values, care about others implicitly and am driven by a core need to make a difference.

Designing My Business

My teams and peers have recognised this in the past and my current and future clients recognise this now and will continue to in the future. It is clear that my business exists to assist others, as this is a personal passion and a company mantra. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Engaging your team members and providing the leadership to positively impact their performance is a great base to work from.

Profit first or as an outcome -it is a classic chicken and egg scenario. Or is it?

If you subscribe to my point that profit is an outcome then it implies that there are contributing elements influencing this as inputs. I may be naive and look back at statements such as this in years to come with unease or maybe even embarrassment, but I cannot help the overwhelming belief that business exists for more than simply making a profit.

Putting People First

In fact, my view is that business should exist for its people first, which has a direct and inherent implication on performance, engagement and effort delivered by your employees.

This is a benefit for business as it is something your customers feel also.

A culture built on this philosophy is self-replicating and self-fulfilling in that it builds confidence, certainty and direction both internally and externally….and impacts profit.

Your employees will not necessarily ‘buy- into’ the values and philosophies of your company just because they are presented. In fact, if your team member’s see these values, mission statements and similar as being incongruent with what they see and feel every day, these tools can prove more damaging than not creating them at all. You are setting up false standards and expectations.

Effective Leadership

Effective leaders, displaying the company values, primarily aligned to their own, provide significant power to your business. Unfortunately knowing this and taking appropriate action are not the same thing.

It is difficult to develop good leaders and managers.

It is even more difficult to have this positively impact all employees as a result of a strong leadership team. You are dealing with people and the related inconsistencies, beliefs, passions and many other attributes inherent in all of us.

Embrace this diversity! If you don’t, then leadership is not for you.

Emotional Intelligent

Emotional Intelligence traits, the desire to help others, assisting your team members to grow, aligning the work they do with their passions and portraying similar philosophies aid positive culture.

The willingness to acknowledge development areas and take appropriate action, whilst also building on individual and team strengths are key. Along with other inputs, these create effective leadership.

The benefits of getting leadership right flow onto so many other aspects of your business.

My original point related to whether business exists for profit-making only. If this is your key goal I believe your employees and customers will smell it a mile off. It is essential to provide a product, service and create a culture that maximizes the opportunities to make a profit. Without it the business will not survive. However, profit is not the only or even the primary focus of business – your people are!


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today.
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Steve Riddle

Steve Riddle is the owner of CoachStation
He is making a difference by focusing on leadership & people development
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Skype: steve.riddle36

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