According to Jo Owen in ‘How To Lead’:
Leaders typically develop their capabilities in three ways:
1. Learning from role models
2. Learning from experience
3. Learning from structured observation and discovery
This is a simple but profound insight. I want to share a story for each of the three points for some profound moments that have changed the way I view leadership and the world around me:
Learning from role models
There are more role models in my life than I could possibly mention. In that respect, I am ludicrously blessed. One of the most influential in my thoughts, behaviours and attitudes has been Ben Oliver. Ben is a very clever man. A gifted communicator, teacher, businessman and executive pastor, he is one of the most savvy leaders I know. I have had the immense privilege of Ben mentoring me over the last few years. One small memory that stands out is when the Kerith team headed up to a conference in Bradford for church leaders and we attended a networking evening at an Indian restaurant. We sat next to each other and had all sorts of conversations with leaders from all over the country. Unless spoken to, I tried to keep my mouth shut and listen to Ben and the way he spoke to others, the questions he asked and his responses to questions directed at him. I learnt so much in one evening – not just because of the way Ben interacted with people, but also because he so graciously took the time in between conversations to ask me questions about the previous exchanges and point out things that I’d missed. It was huge. A great role model, mentor, leader and friend. I really appreciate his influence on me!
Notable mentions must go to Lee Layton-Matthews, Helen Cottee, Colin Boyle, Ben Davies, Simon Benham and Michael Ross-Watson – they have utterly transformed my life with the examples they have set in leadership and faith. Incredible people.
Learning from experience
One of the harshest lessons I’ve ever learnt was one of patience, humility and grace. Back in the days of Ethos, our previous youth band, we were preparing for our first CD recording. Stuart Bryan, then our rhythm guitarist, had written a song that was good, but needed a little bit of tweaking. Having worked on it a little bit, we came up with a basic version we were happy with and were in the process of coming up with parts for the band. For some reason, I was getting particularly frustrated with Stuart talking while I was trying I was trying to lead the guys to an arrangement. Increasingly frustrated, I snapped. Like, properly snapped. I ended up calling Stuart a series of names, and saying some hugely outrageous things in front of everyone. Stuart was pretty upset, I was ashamed and the rest of the rehearsal was completely wasted. I was 20 at the time; Stuart was about 16/17. He was just having fun; I was taking things far too seriously. In short, I was a bit of a fool.
After a conversation with Lee (mentioned above), he suggested that I sat the band down together the following week and apologised for the way I’d acted. I did. It was hard. It can be hard to accept that you are wrong, but sometimes it’s so important. Through that experience, I learnt to remember that relationships come far above physical output. I learnt that patience really is a valuable virtue – not all people have the same passion as me at the exact same time. And that’s ok. I learnt the value of admitting your mistakes and not letting your emotions have a negative impact on your actions. It really was a tough lesson.
Learning from structured observation and discovery
This one is simple and there’s no story for it. Basically, I try to read as much as possible. I was hugely stirred by this quote: ‘not every reader is a leader, but every leader is a reader’. Some of my favourite authors on leadership (or on a topic that has helped me to be a better leader) are John C. Maxwell, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, Chip and Dan Heath, Daniel Pink and Jo Owen, though I could name many more. Learning from these leadership giants has helped me in ways I can’t even begin to explain. Their knowledge and wisdom is impossible to fully ingest after one read of each book, but small nuggets of information linger, helping me to be a better leader and a better person. The fact that we have the opportunity to read so many books on leadership is such a blessing!
In short, I’m living proof that Jo Owen is on the money with this insight. Maybe you’ve got an experience, role model or favourite leadership author. My challenge now is two-fold: to continue my own journey of discovery, and to try to be the role model for others, help them to experience moments of leadership growth and actively seek structured observation and discovery. It’s a fun challenge!