Q: If people want to assess their own abilities as leaders, how do you suggest they get started?
A: In our research we've learned that the behavior leaders struggle with the most is "I ask for feedback on how my actions affect the performance of others." It's something everyone finds difficult, so just asking the question about getting started is a big step forward.
Before you can assess your capability as a leader, you first need a framework that is evidence-based and has support from research. The model we derived from our extensive research on Personal-Best Leadership Experiences is The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®, and the tool we developed to measure the extent to which leaders engage in these practices is the 30-item Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI). It's a 360-degree assessment tool, but you can get started by completing just the Self-only form. Eventually you'll want to get feedback from your key constituents: your manager, peers, direct reports, and other observers. But if you want to take the first step, begin with an honest self-assessment. From that you'll get a profile of how frequently you engage in effective leader behaviors and a sense of where you're strong and where you need improvement.
With that feedback in mind, I'd suggest you set improvement goals and engage in learning activities specifically designed to reach those goals. Those activities can be done in a workshop setting—such as our The Leadership Challenge® Workshop—or in one-on-one sessions with a good coach. You also can learn by observing others who've mastered leadership, by reading, or by just jumping in and experimenting with new behaviors. It doesn't matter how you learn, but you do need to set goals, pick a method for learning, follow it, and get more feedback. After that, it's just repeating that cycle many times over. But make sure you pay as much attention to the activity and the technique as you do to the outcome. Yes, you have goals to improve, but also focus on getting the technique right, whatever skills you are working on. It's called deliberate practice.
Another important point about developing expertise is that you have to practice a lot to become an expert. If you compare experts to average performers, the research suggests that experts log about twice as many hours compared to those who are average. So in that vein, one final suggestion would be to follow our mantra: practice, practice, practice. Or, more accurately, deliberate practice, deliberate practice, deliberate practice.
Jim Kouzes is the Dean's Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University. Together with Barry Posner, he is author of The Leadership Challenge and over a thirty other books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development.