Shaping Experiences
 by Stephen H. Baum

Your leadership core is nurtured and grown out of shaping experiences you encounter and often pursue throughout your life. I've identified ten archetypal shaping experiences that mold people into leaders, developing their leadership traits and providing the knowledge and skills crucial to operating in a highly effective manner. Yes, there are ten, and no one of them provides the skill, talent, inherent ability, or single moment of inspiration that makes a leader. These days, no one becomes an effective boss by pulling a sword from a stone. Great leadership happens through hard work and a willingness to take on experience and learn from it.

To paraphrase Gordon Bethune, former chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines, whose leadership skills are legendary: No one thing makes a leader great. Just as having some flour, milk, and eggs in a bowl doesn't mean you have a great cake -- it's what you do with those ingredients that will determine whether the cake turns out well or poorly.

Archetypal shaping experiences contribute to the cake turning out well. The ten broad categories of shaping experiences are listed below and are shown with a brief definition and explanatory quotes from the leaders I interviewed for my book, What Made jack welch, Jack Welch:

1. Swim in Water over Your Head.
Take a calculated personal risk without specific knowledge of how to succeed.

  • "You gotta do things outside your comfort zone. On purpose."
  • "I figured I'd get beat up pretty good in this fistfight, but I had to do it. I got a big lump on my head, but I didn't die."

2. Make the Tough Choice.
Choose group benefit over personal interest, or choose between two "rights."

  • "Sometimes you have to take a good friend off the team and make him feel okay about it. Or do it anyway."

3. Solve the Key Puzzle.
Even if it is not your job, figure out the root of the problem or opportunity.

  • "Sometimes the crowd runs in circles. You have to concentrate and see what everything hangs on -- even if it is not your accountability."

4. Parent at Work.
Help others to grow and to perform exceptionally.

  • "You learn a lot from your parents and by parenting your own children; sometimes thinking as Mom or Dad at work helps."
  • "Ask what you would do if your people were family -- you get some good approaches."
  • "Treat your employees as you would want your children treated."

5. Sell Something/Get Others to Buy In.
Win hearts and minds to create followers.

  • "Sell an idea. You'll be doing it a lot."
  • "Get people to vote with their feet, part with their money -- it's what life is all about."

6. Connect with Others.
Understand what motivates others -- walk the talk and speak their language. Enlist them as much by your deeds as by your words.

  • "This plane will get fixed a lot faster if the mechanics want it to. It won't fix itself."
  • "A lot of bosses treat their people like they're nobodies. My guys do their best because it's about us, not about me."

7. Build a Team.
Gather and lead a group in a common endeavor, and succeed. Or fail at first and try again. Get average players to play like stars. Add new members and weed out underperformers. Set direction and change it while keeping the team together.

  • "When you have to deliver, you need experience in selecting people and getting them on the same page."
  • "Pickup football taught me how to handicap horses -- who will perform and who will not."

8. Get Good on Your Feet.
Learn to communicate, dialogue, and project your authenticity in real time.

  • "I was the leader of the singing group. That is when I got used to speaking in front of others. It came in handy later."
  • "I ran for student council. That's when I learned to handle the hecklers."
  • "I wanted to create an atmosphere of fun around a serious proposition. I organized and led a parade in the building. It not only did what I wanted, it also got me noticed in a good way by the boss."

9. Develop Your Crap Detector.
Practice your intuitive ability to read subtexts of conversations and to detect individuals whose words and behaviors are not what they pretend them to be.

  • "In the military police, we had to ask questions and make quick judgments about people -- a guy who seemed real nice might have beaten someone up a few minutes earlier."

10. Look in the Mirror.
Assess your own values, beliefs, and behaviors critically.

  • "I didn't want to hear it, but the criticism made me look inside myself. I changed my career, headed for operations. "
  • "He made me see my passion -- it's why I stayed in this field against all odds."
  • "He told me I'd never make partner if I could not disagree without being disagreeable."  

Stephen H. Baum has been an advisor and coach to CEOs for more than twenty years, first as a partner with Booz Allen & Hamilton, the global consultancy -- where beyond the client work he was also on the appraisal and development committee and mentored young associates -- then as an independent practitioner.  Stephen's book, What Made jack welch, Jack Welch is published by Crown Business, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. www.crownpublishing.com . Visit www.stephenhbaumleadership.com .

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Copyright 2007 by Stephen H. Baum. All rights reserved.

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