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Leadership Practices Are Perishable Skills

People and organizations are always talking about learning leadership principles, and leadership practices. But what many leaders within those organizations forget is that leadership is a combination of many individual skills, and like many skills, if not used or practiced, then it has the potential to be lost or used improperly. Leadership as a practice, is a perishable skill that trainers, supervisors, managers, CEO's, and others must continually work with to continue to be proficient.

I was reminded of this while meeting with a fire department chief I had worked with a few years

ago. In hearing the updates of how things were progressing, he told me of how he and other members of the organization have had to focus on using some of the skills learned in the training, because they had not been using them, and then he said, “If we don’t use it, we lose it.” The Fire Chief was absolutely right, because leadership, is many skills based in psychology, behavioral and social science, communication and other behaviors that must be consciously practiced, in order to become consciously competent.

As a former Police Training Commander, I was responsible to ensure that all department personnel were trained in the "perishable skills," as required by California's Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.). Those skills that have low frequency of occurrence, but high levels of danger or liability, like use of force and pursuit driving, are the ones that were most critical. The same idea should be used in leadership practices. What leadership skills have a low frequency of occurrence, but have a high level of impact, which may result in liability, culture erosion, change preparation, or organizational safety.

Whether you are focusing on teamwork or individuals, or the entire organization, you can practice some of the leadership concepts that are taught in three different levels of the CMF Leadership Training Courses such as:

  • Review what power-base you tend to use and try to move towards being a “referent leader”

  • Ensure you are not helping create the impression of in-groups/out-groups by the ways in which you treat people.

  • Model good leadership AND FOLLOWERSHIP, by using the traits of great leaders, which are also the traits of exemplary followers.

  • Treat people as individuals based on their circumstances in life, their generation, their values, their stage in life, their needs, and remember that all people want to be treated with “Value and Respect.”

  • Consider how you apply the fundamental attribution error and how you assign blame and credit. And remember don't rationalize away behavior that you should be paying attention to, it will eventually come back at you.

  • Focus on how you socialize your people into the organization, based on what you want your organization’s culture to become. What you allow in the organization creates the organization’s culture.

  • Consider the levels of cohesion of the teams and groups within the organization, is it functional or dysfunctional? Remember to replace dysfunctional behavior with a functional behavior that supports the organizational mission.

  • Are you and the organization acting equitably? This is one of the easiest problems to spot, but one of the most difficult to fix because it is based on perception.

  • Scrutinize how motivation is used in the organization. Are carrots and sticks working, or do you use autonomy, mastery and purpose (Check out "Drive" By Daniel Pink), to help people become motivated?

  • Pay attention to how you are setting realistic and attainable goals for individuals, teams and

the organization that are in-line with the organizational goals. How do you know?

  • Have you looked at what stage your teams are in? Are they “performing” or stuck somewhere between “storming and norming,” how can you move them to performing?

  • Consider how your teams handle conflict and if you are using the team decision-making skills to obtain the best possible result. Are you avoiding “Groupthink” and taking a trip on the “Road to Abilene?”

  • Review the ethical climate of the organization and make sure you are considering the integrity of the organization as the primary focus. Do you need to conduct some “integrity checks?”

  • Consider revisiting or revising your communication plan, how communication is used, and if it is the most effective method. Seek out feedback on how well you use active listening, and how you provide feedback to stakeholders.

  • Delve into the level of transparency that is used in the organization. How do you know if it is appropriate, or needs to be adjusted?

Putting It All Together:

Leadership isn’t just one skill, it is many skills that if not practiced daily, may become lost or minimally not used effectively. We have to become consciously competent in your use and practice of leadership skills. Being consciously competent means that you consciously practice the skills of leadership, and continually evaluate where you are as a leader and a follower in the organization. Learning leadership is not enough, it must be practiced, sometimes daily, hourly, or even minute by minute, depending on the situation. It may be hard with all that you have going, but aren’t your leadership skills worth the time and effort to be sure you are “sharpening the saw,” as Stephen Covey puts it?

Some Quotes to Put Into Practice:

“Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have--you.” – Stephen R. Covey “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” - Yogi Berra

About the Author: Dr. Chris Fuzie is the author of "S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior," and Owner of CMF Leadership Consulting. Chris is a developer/trainer/consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations. Chris holds a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education. Chris is honorably retired from the Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service where he last served as the Assistant Division Commander of Investigations.

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