Austin Almond is an Army engineer officer born and raised in Texas. He is currently stationed at Fort Shafter, Hawaii and serves as the Aide-de-Camp to the Commanding General, Pacific Ocean Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Austin is just a normal guy who finds purpose investing time and energy in others. In his spare time, Austin enjoys sports, spending time with family, and eating Mexican food.
I am a frequent subscriber to all types of weekly leadership related emails. Even if I don’t read them, signing up makes me feel like I am developing myself. All that changed a few months ago with a perfectly timed From the Green Notebook Sunday Email. In his email, Joe Byerly reflected on how easy it is to become a consumer of leadership and self-help wisdom instead of a producer of action.
My entire identity was questioned. Can I really consider myself an intentional leader if all I do is consume leadership and self-help wisdom? Halfway through the email, I felt like I was hit by a gut-punch of guilt after reading:
I believe there is something within our brains that makes reading about action feel like taking action. It's a safe first step to read a book or listen to a podcast. It helps us avoid that uncomfortable feeling that comes with first steps, growth and change. We don't have to feel the muscle soreness that comes for the first few times at the gym. We don’t have to overcome the fear of staring at a blank page.
Putting leadership into action can be difficult and uncomfortable. There is no shortage for reasons why we don’t. For some, a gravitation towards consuming stems from a perceived lack of time and capacity due to business at work. For new leaders, there is often hesitancy or nervousness surrounding how to start trying to be “a leader.” Others, especially those not serving in formal leadership roles, might struggle without a defined sphere of influence. But, choosing to continue to consume is choosing to stay on the sidelines of living a life of service and leadership.
Regardless of what has held us back in the past, we can all start putting leadership into action through two easy ways that can be done at any level, any position, and any time; reflection and role modeling.
As James R. Bailey and Scheherazade Rehman note in Don’t Underestimate the Power of Self Reflection, “the habit of reflection can separate extraordinary professionals from mediocre ones.” In fact, researchers have even found that at a certain point, the benefit of additional experience is inferior to deliberately reflecting on the experiences you already have.
But what does, or can, reflection look like… and does it have to start with the fear of staring at a blank page?
Guided Reflection: James Clear highlights the “Law of Least Effort” in his book Atomic Habits, stating that “when deciding between two similar options, people will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.” Guided reflection does exactly that by removing the barrier of a blank page and creates an environment where doing the right thing (taking action!) is as easy as possible by providing questions and frameworks to give your reflection efforts a running start. The Clear Habit Journal, My Green Notebook: Know Thyself Before Changing Jobs, and 3 Powerful Questions to Think, Communicate, & Lead Better are all guided reflection resources that remove the friction of not knowing “what” to reflect on.
Group Reflection: Not all group texts are bad! Reflection for the iGen can be less daunting through a phone screen than a blank paper. Starting a group chat with a few likeminded friends or peers can help provide a nudge in the right direction. Bi-weekly check-ins with a set prompt such as something you learned recently, some piece of developmental content you found impactful, and a current challenge or question is one way to start. Splitting into two teams can also help avoid reflection feeling like a burden and provide a balance between your own reflection and responding to others. And just remember, you’re not writing (texting) dissertations. The intent is constant communication and collaboration.
Personally, reflection has allowed me to grow more intentionally by learning from past mistakes, identifying areas I need to develop for the future, and helping provide perspective to others experiencing similar situations. At the end of the day, it is the one component we have most control over in our pursuit to become better, more self-aware, leaders.
A mentor of mine often says you can’t confuse movement for progress. Experience itself is not enough. We need reflection to make progress toward becoming better versions of ourselves. Guided and group reflection are just two of the many ways we can start.
Role modeling, or leading by example, is another area we can intentionally transition from consuming to producing. In fact, we are all role models already. As James Robbins explains in Nine Minutes on Monday, “Like it or not, your direct reports watch you. They notice how you react, how you behave, how you manage change, and how you face obstacles.” One way to be intentional about how you role model is through “purposeful modeling.” Simply put, we live in a glass house whether we want to or not.
Purposeful Modeling: Purposeful modeling starts with asking yourself what trait or behavior your organization needs to see from you. For example, James Kerr shows us what purposefully modeling humility looks like in his book Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. James takes us into the rugby locker room of the All Blacks of New Zealand, one of the most successful sports teams of all-time, after a decisive victory. What he found surprised him; senior leaders on the team sweeping the shed after the game, and ultimately a culture filled with leaders never too big to do the small things.
Although role modeling is not a choice, what we choose to model is. By choosing to purposefully model we inherently choose to make a positive impact on those we lead and love. But, it doesn’t happen by accident. We must be aware of the impact our example has on others, identify the traits or behaviors our team needs modeled, and translate those into actions we take.
Purposeful modeling also turns the glass house we live in into an opportunity to shape the culture of our organizations by providing an example for others to follow…one action at a time. Next time you are searching for a simple way to try and start having an impact beyond yourself, give purposeful modeling a shot.
THE MOUNTAIN ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE
You can climb it, or you can avoid it, but it's not going away. There is always a mountain. There is always something in front of us that we know we should do, but it just seems so…hard…The choice is yours, but the mountain isn’t going away. The longer you put off the hard thing you know you need to do, the harder it becomes to get started.
Reflection and role modeling are two easy ways we can start climbing the mountain and putting leadership into action. But, if you made it this far, it is already too late. Stop consuming! We can’t impact others by continuing to consume and sit on the sideline.