When it comes to leadership development, business owners can find inspiration from a wide variety of people, places and experiences.
As a follow-up piece to my recent piece on leadership qualities, I asked the same four leaders about their strongest sources of inspiration for leadership development:
- Jordan Brannon, director of digital strategies at Los Angeles-based website development and search engine optimization strategies firm Coalition Technologies
- Julie Honeywell, chief human resources officer of Paladino and Company, a Seattle-based sustainability and green building consulting firm
- Alex Levin, co-founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based creative agency L+R
- Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, an online document filing services provider
Let's tap into their experience and see if what inspires them just might inspire you.
How Your Employees Can Help With Leadership Development
Alex Levin cites his employees as one of the top resources he uses for leadership development.
"Because we are a small company at this point, each of my employees' voices is heavily weighted in the decision-making process," says Levin. "If one person doesn't buy in, they have the power to sink the ship. In that way, their thoughts, perspectives, and feedback become a well of leadership inspiration for me. Luckily, my business partner and I have surrounded ourselves with employees whose processes and perspectives are incredibly diverse, and [whom] we really trust and value."
—Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation
Deborah Sweeney finds inspiration from her team members as well.
"I look to my team members and colleagues to help me improve my leadership style. They are the best mirror of my style. When I see them thriving, I know things are going well," says Sweeney. "However, I always notice opportunities to improve—to work more efficiently, to offer better customer service, to improve our training. Those observations help me to evaluate and continue to improve my leadership."
Questions to consider: How can your employees help you as you work on your leadership development? Whom do you trust and value? Are there people on your team you trust to give you uncensored feedback? How can you approach your trusted employees and team members for feedback that can help you in developing your leadership skills?
How Parents and Colleagues Can Help With Leadership Development
We may have moved out of their homes ages ago, but that doesn't mean that parents can't offer some of us continued inspiration when it comes to leadership development.
"My mom inspires me in every way," says Sweeney. "She helps me to see the best in every possible opportunity."
The same could be said for her colleagues, she continues.
"I also interact with entrepreneur colleagues, fellow law school grads and my husband, who is also an entrepreneur. They help me think of things differently. They present ideas, strategies and approaches to business I don't always see when I'm in the middle of it. Being entrepreneurs themselves, they see potential where I may not."
Levin concurs on the leadership development value of colleagues.
"I find myself drawing large amounts of inspiration from the network of professional friendships I have made over the years," shares Levin. "Unlike my employees, I don't see these people every day—maybe once every two to three years—and they have no stake in L+R as a company. Through a willingness to be open, humble and seek advice [and] feedback, I have found that I gain huge insights every time I reconnect with one of these friends.
"They are able to offer a perspective totally outside the world of L+R and sometimes even outside the world of our industry," he continues. "There's no incentive for them to offer anything but their honest opinion. This kind of feedback forces me to think about L+R and my own strategic leadership from a previously unseen angle."
Questions to consider: What networks do you have that you can tap into for feedback on your leadership skills? Are there colleagues and peers you could connect with who are not a part of your business who could add value to your leadership development goals?
The Importance of Mentors and Bosses in Leadership Development
When leaders find a career home, it's not uncommon for them to form strong and candid relationships with their bosses and cultivate mentor relationships. Jordan Brannon cites his relationship with his boss—Coalition CEO Joel Gross—as one of the most inspiring relationships for the development of his leadership talents.
"There are a lot of stylistic differences in our leadership approach, but that's taught me to be a better leader," Brannon says. "Where I tend to invest my time in the interpersonal side of leadership, Joel invests in the data side. He's constantly looking at the metrics that motivate people and the metrics that don't. Joel's approach to looking at leadership through the lens of data analysis has allowed me to understand that good leadership can produce consistent, measurable outcomes. That's made me more thoughtful in how I think about leadership initiatives with my team members."
Questions to consider: What mentor relationships can you establish or capitalize on to bring trusted, ongoing feedback to your leadership development? Is there a relationship you can cultivate with someone senior in your organization that could improve how you approach your leadership skills?
How Industry Experts Can Help With Developing Leaders
Maybe you aspire to be one of your industry's leading experts one day. Today's leaders can look to leaders in their fields—or even areas in which they want to develop their leadership skills—for inspiration. Julie Honeywell finds inspiration for her career in human resources from those who've made their careers out of helping organizations find the value in their workforces.
"I spend time reading from cutting-edge experts in the field of human resources and talent management. Individuals like Gary Hamel, Marcus Buckingham, Marshall Goldsmith and Dan Pink have helped shed light on the possibilities of trying something different than the way one would normally approach a leadership opportunity," Honeywell shares. "Whether it's creating moonshots or feeding forward, coming at an idea from an opposite direction is a great way to push yourself to imagine a better future."
Honeywell has also found inspiration from other HR industry leaders as well. "Marshall Goldsmith's work in asking others for help with behaviors you're trying to improve has allowed me to form deep and vulnerable relationships. These relationships have allowed me to truly have [the] strategic influence to create change," says Honeywell. "Marcus Buckingham's work with strengths and assessment has enabled me to understand and celebrate my strengths. I've learned where to focus my contributions and to surround myself with others who complement my abilities to create transformation."
Questions to consider: What industry experts do you look to when seeking out new ideas for developing your leadership skills? Do you find yourself consulting the same experts or welcoming new voices and ideas into your pursuit of leadership excellence?
What will you do in the coming year to help your leadership development efforts? Consider starting your own list of ways you can accelerate your leadership potential in the months and years ahead. What these leaders all have in common is a willingness to reach out to others and share ideas. Great leadership doesn't happen in a vacuum. You can open yourself up to a flow of ideas that may help transform your future as a leader.
Read more articles on leadership.