Leadership is a Contact Sport

Kara Powell | Aug 14, 2012

Want to bring out the best in yourself, as well as your colleagues?

If so, then you need to pay attention to the research-based nuggets in this “Leadership is a Contact Sport” article sent to me by a dear friend. After studying eight companies, the researchers’ major conclusion is this:

Time and again, one variable emerged as central to the achievement of positive long-term change: the participants ongoing interaction and follow-up with colleagues. Leaders who discussed their own improvement priorities with their co-workers, and then regularly followed up with these co-workers, showed striking improvement. Leaders who did not have ongoing dialogue with colleagues showed improvement that barely exceeded random chance. This was true whether the leader had an external coach, an internal coach, or no coach…

The development of leaders, we have concluded, is a contact sport.

Here’s another key distinction their research illuminated:

Historically, a great deal of leadership development has focused on the importance of an event. This event could be a training program, a motivational speech, or an offsite executive meeting. The experience of the eight companies we studied indicates that real leadership development involves a process that occurs over time, not an inspiration or transformation that occurs in a meeting.

The good news is that this “contact” approach to leadership doesn’t cost much money. The less good news is that it does cost something more valuable to many of us: our time.

Nonetheless, if you want you and your team to grow, it seems to me that implementing this research might mean some of the following:

1. Annual reviews. It’s surprising to me how few non-profits and churches conduct annual reviews. When’s the last time you’ve done an annual review with those who you supervise (whether they be paid or volunteer)? Even a few questions can generate a meaningful conversation (i.e., What have been some highlights of the year? Where do you think you’re operating out of your strengths? What would be some growth areas for you?).

When’s the last time you’ve had one done for you? Feel free to ask for a review, even if your company or organization doesn’t require it. Better to get feedback along the way then when it’s too late.

2. Phone feedback. One of the interesting findings in this data was that phone feedback/coaching is basically as helpful as in-person feedback. So if you want to get some coaching but don’t have anyone geographically near you, don’t let that limit you. Pick up the phone, and encourage those on your team to do likewise.

3. Share your own goals. Don’t keep your own growth areas a secret from your team. Let them know how you’re hoping to change in the near future, and if appropriate, invite them to keep you accountable.

4. View improvement as a process, not an event. Our team has decided that in our staff meetings, we are going to spend 1 of our 2 hours together on “big picture” issues, so that we can continue to keep those areas - and the implications for us as individual team members - front and center, not pushed aside by the always pressing immediate logistics. What can you do to make sure you keep the “big picture” in front of you and your team, and discuss how your functions and roles need to continue to evolve based on your vision for the future?

How else have you tried to share your own growth areas, or dialogue with other colleagues about theirs?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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