Five Behaviors You Must Practice To Cross The

Leadership Threshold

Forbes Coaches Council

Top coaches offer insights on leadership development & careers.

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Post written by

Jared Lafitte

Speaker and founder of Lafitte Coaching, helping leaders thrive and organizations develop effective cultures.

Leadership is not defined by a title or a position, a record of experience or an accumulation of knowledge. That's why there are many in positions of power who have great expertise and experience, yet are poor leaders.

Leadership is a practice that requires mastery of several key behaviours that transfer vision and motivate action. Like any behaviour, they are meant to be learned, practiced, repeated and sharpened. Leadership should be pursued primarily as a set of practices to be developed and not as a position to be attained. When leaders learn to make this distinction between position and practice, they are crossing what I call the leadership threshold: a conceptual line that divides leadership grounded upon expertise, experience and authority (positional leadership) from leadership grounded upon behaviours and practices (behavioural leadership).

One way to nuance this is to say that experience, expertise and authority serve as crucial supplements to leadership, but generally do not themselves create leadership. Like logs in a fireplace, an accumulation of knowledge and experience provides fuel for the fire of leadership, but it is only behaviours such as conviction, communication and influence that provide the spark to set it ablaze. Crossing the leadership threshold means learning to view expertise, experience and authority as supportive but not primary.

I often tell my clients, "You know you've crossed the leadership threshold when you see yourself as an influencer more than as a superior." But what is the difference between leadership and influence? This is an interesting question in that there do not seem to be many immediate distinctions, etymologically speaking. To influence is to lead and to lead is to influence. Your title might provide a platform for you to influence others, but it is your ongoing behaviours as a leader that make influence happen.

So what are these behaviours? What practices must a leader commit to taking on in order to genuinely influence others, to inspire action, to cross the leadership threshold? In my view, there are at least five: conviction, connection, communication, passion and vision. A leader must take on these practices and prioritize them to substantiate their leadership.

Conviction is a sense of how things must be or become. It's an ongoing, internal 
commitment to something greater, something that transcends the current tasks at hand. Ask questions like, "What is the meaning behind what I’m doing?” “Why do I need to be a part of the lives of others?” and "What has convinced me?” You can't lead people somewhere unless they are convinced they must go there.

Connection means delivering your convictions according to the language and paradigms of those around you. Ask, "Have I found the common ground between what I want and what my people want? Have I created a path forward that helps them see their contribution to the big picture?"

Communication is packaging your message into clear, action-oriented language and committing to consistently expressing what's most important. Understand that language creates culture and shapes behaviour, and stay on message.

Passion is the meaningful expression of one's conviction. It's a genuine, ongoing communication about where you want to go and why you want to go there. When others sense your passion, it gives them passion as well.

Vision means that a leader understands and communicates a clear picture of success, including how the team contributes to it and achieves it at each step. Know how to combine big picture with

small steps, to bring together vision and contribution. Vision without contribution is merely poetry and contribution without vision is merely a job.

The higher you rise in an organization, the more essential these people and leadership-related skills become. In crossing the leadership threshold, you must move from executing and performing tasks on your own to motivating and influencing others. This need for new skills as a leader progresses is the leadership gap many companies struggle to negotiate.

In the beginning of a leader's journey, raw skills and task-related knowledge largely determine success, but as the leader progresses, the ability to motivate and inspire others increasingly determines success because they carry a larger influence over the total direction of others' skills and knowledge within the organization. The irony is this: As a leader grows, their personal ability to execute a skill or knowledge-related task becomes less crucial for success because they are increasingly responsible for empowering others to do this.

The problem is that many leaders don't conceive of behavioural leadership as a skill set to be developed the way their technical skills were once developed. Often leaders see these items as personality or intangible qualities that some "just have." This is deadly because every company rises and falls on the abilities of its leaders to empower and engage their people, and if leadership is only a rare personality trait or a lucky quality bestowed on a few, then our companies are at the mercy of the gene pool.

Some are certainly born with more dispositions toward leadership, but leadership is a set of skills anyone can develop and improve. No accumulation of knowledge will cause you to cross the leadership threshold, but you can begin taking steps now to build the behaviors that will get you there.

Are you crossing the leadership threshold?

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The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails

By Mike Myatt ,  

He writes about leadership myths, and busts them one-by–one.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Over the years, I’ve observed just about every type of leadership development program on the planet. And the sad thing is, most of them don’t even come close to accomplishing what they were designed to do – build better leaders. In today’s column I’ll share the #1 reason leadership development programs fail, and give you 20 things to focus on to ensure yours doesn’t become another casualty.

According to the American Society of Training and Development, U.S. businesses spend more than $170 Billion dollars on leadership-based curriculum, with the majority of those dollars being spent on “Leadership Training.” Here’s the thing – when it comes to leadership, the training industry has been broken for years. You don’t train leaders you develop them – a subtle yet important distinction lost on many. Leadership training is alive and well, but it should have died long, long ago.

This may be heresy to some – but training is indeed the #1 reason leadership development fails. While training is often accepted as productive, it rarely is. The terms training and development have somehow become synonymous when they are clearly not. This is more than an argument based on semantics – it’s painfully real. I’ll likely take some heat over my allegations against the training industry’s negative impact on the development of leaders, and while this column works off some broad generalizations, in my experience having worked with literally thousands of leaders, they are largely true.

An Overview of The Problem

My problem with training is it presumes the need for indoctrination on systems, processes and techniques. Moreover, training assumes that said systems, processes and techniques are the right way to do things. When a trainer refers to something as “best practices” you can with great certitude rest assured that’s not the case. Training focuses on best practices, while development focuses on next practices. Training is often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one size fits all, authoritarian process that imposes static, outdated information on people. The majority of training takes place within a monologue (lecture/presentation) rather than a dialog. Perhaps worst of all, training usually occurs within a vacuum driven by past experience, not by future needs.


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The Solution

The solution to the leadership training problem is to scrap it in favour of development. Don’t train leaders, coach them, mentor them, disciple them, and develop them, but please don’t attempt to train them. Where training attempts to standardize by blending to a norm and acclimating to the status quo, development strives to call out the unique and differentiate by shattering the status quo. Training is something leaders dread and will try and avoid, whereas they will embrace and look forward to development. Development is nuanced, contextual, collaborative, fluid, and above all else, actionable.

The following 20 items point out some of the main differences between training and development:

1. Training blends to a norm – Development occurs beyond the norm.

2. Training focuses on technique/content/curriculum – Development focuses on people.

3. Training tests patience – Development tests courage.

4. Training focuses on the present – Development focuses on the future.

5. Training adheres to standards – Development focuses on maximizing potential.

6. Training is transactional – Development is transformational.

7. Training focuses on maintenance – Development focuses on growth.

8. Training focuses on the role – Development focuses on the person.

9. Training indoctrinates – Development educates.

10. Training maintains status quo – Development catalyzes innovation.

11. Training stifles culture – Development enriches culture.

12. Training encourages compliance – Development emphasizes performance.

13. Training focuses on efficiency – Development focuses on effectiveness.

14. Training focuses on problems  - Development focuses on solutions.

15. Training focuses on reporting lines – Development expands influence.

16. Training places people in a box – Development frees them from the box.

17. Training is mechanical – Development is intellectual.

18. Training focuses on the knowns – Development explores the unknowns.

19. Training places people in a comfort zone – Development moves people beyond their comfort zones.

20. Training is finite – Development is infinite.

If what you desire is a robotic, static thinker – train them. If you’re seeking innovative, critical thinkers – develop them. I have always said it is impossible to have an enterprise which is growing and evolving if leadership is not.