Five Ways to Grow as a Leader

1. Read about leadership
This is one of the most under-utilized resources for growing as a leader. Adopting the habit of voracious reading is alone enough to give one a competitive advantage. However, many of us find ourselves too busy to carve out time to dive into a good book. I am humbled by Marine General James Mattis’s response to this concern, published back in 2003 in Business Insider and reprinted in his book Call Sign Chaos ( “The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience, i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.”

2. Talk to other leaders
Some of my best leadership lessons have come over dinner listening to a friend discuss the challenges in their business. I have also benefited greatly from membership in a professional mastermind (for me Vistage, others include YPO and EO).

3. Study leadership
This could of course overlap with reading about leadership, but other opportunities to study leadership include master classes, conferences, speaking engagements, or formal classes led by experienced leaders.

4. Examine your experience
For many, this is their greatest teacher. Simply having experiences, however, is not enough. In fact, one of the main reasons leaders stall in their growth is failure to examine their experiences. Simply asking what went well and what could go better will take you a long way.

5. Mentor another leader
Back in my professor days, we would often say if there’s something you want to learn, teach a class on it. Taking the time to pour into a younger leader can seem difficult, given the demands on our time, but there’s something about teaching others that helps solidify the things we think and believe in our own leadership. Also, everyone who has ever coached or mentored (or parented!) knows there are times when you’re in the middle of an amazing speech and you realize, “Oh crud. I’m preaching to myself.”

-Eric Smith