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Leaders Grow

  • Written by Maren Schmidt, M.Ed.

Research shows that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours of focused practice to become a master musician, artist, dancer ... parent or leader.

One of the first steps in becoming a leader is realizing that proficiency requires a significant amount of time, commitment and dedication. How much time is 10,000 hours? Practice eight hours a day, and that figure translates to 1,250 days or about three-and-a-half years. That’s assuming eight hours a day with a leadership attitude!

Your initial sphere of influence as a leader is small. Stretch out your arms horizontally to the floor, turn around, look in the mirror and there is your beginning sphere of influence. You. Your ideas, your thoughts, your actions, your habits, your character, your life. The most important person you will ever lead or influence is yourself. And the most difficult person? You guessed it. Yourself.

We grow our sphere of influence by asking a key question: What is the best thing I can do under this set of circumstances?

Leadership is a choice, not a position, and once we make the choice to lead and empower ourselves to direct our lives, we begin to enlarge our sphere of influence to include items of personal concern — our families, our friends, our jobs — that grow over time to include our community and the larger world.

Daily, as we ask the key question: What’s the best thing to do? We need to consider the level of initiative to use. Stephen Covey in The 8th Habit tells us of seven levels of initiative, the lowest being wait until told, then ask, make a recommendation — I intend to, do it and report immediately, do it and report periodically, and ending with do it. Perhaps using a child’s development will help us gain insight into our personal growth.

Let’s consider three-year-old Jacob who wants to help in the kitchen. At the first level, Jacob waits until he is told to do something and shown how to do it. Jacob learns to perform such tasks as setting the table, learning to slice fruits and vegetables, load the dishwasher, stir batter, and drop cookies onto a cookie sheet.

Even as a three-year-old Jacob would work through these seven levels of initiative as his skills grow. He’ll ask to set the table.

He might recommend setting the table differently. He could tell you he intends to set the table. Jacob could set the table and report back immediately, or periodically. At the final initiative level, Jacob would be independent and do it without being told, reminded or anything else. He would just do it.

Day by day, year by year, Jacob’s skills and sphere of influence grow by learning new skills, practicing them, and discovering ways to use those skills to help himself and others.

At some point, perhaps age nine, Jacob would have learned all the skills to independently prepare a family meal.

As adult leaders, we grow by asking ourselves continually: What is the best thing to do? We grow by understanding our skill levels and working each day to build proficiency.

We understand our sphere of influence and maximize our work in that area.  We use the seven levels of initiative to understand how to best approach each task in current circumstances.

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