Last week was my anniversary. After exactly 1,722 weeks of wedded bliss, I thought it might be time to give my wife some credit for the leadership lessons I’ve learned from her. No, she’s not a leadership guru, a coach, or a high-powered executive in some Fortune 100 company. She is, however, a damn good Physical Therapist who has zero interest in being part of the management morass she’s been subject to over the last 34 years.

And, trust me, she knows the difference between good and bad leadership behaviors. I know this because I’ve heard about every single one.

While I learned most of what I know about corporate leadership development and executive coaching from my best friend, Kevin (yes, Berchelmann), I learned about how to be a leader and how to develop leaders by doing it. Lead is an active verb – a skill that can’t be learned by just reading about it, and it requires building relationships – an activity that can’t be practiced when we’re by ourselves.

No, learning how to lead comes through doing, and getting good at it is, at times, messy and painful. Kevin and I don’t help people learn leadership skills that apply only to them office; these are life skills that apply to every situation where we interact with other people: at home and the office, with friends and family, in sports and professional associations, and through volunteering and military service.

We see good leadership behaviors, and we try to emulate them. We watch bad leaders and try to avoid their behaviors like the plague. Emulate and avoid are also active verbs, and I included try because we aren’t and won’t always be successful.

Just ask my wife.

Speaking of my wife, here are some leadership skills she taught me (or is still trying to teach me) that I’ve found beneficial:

  • When you’re wrong, be quick to admit it. I am often wrong but never in doubt. Just kidding, I know when I’m wrong. There can be no covering up or blamestorming; that just makes it worse. People know when we’ve got it wrong, so we just need to admit it, apologize sincerely and get over it. No one gets it right every time, and while being wrong can be a blow to the ego, the sooner we correct the mistake, the less damage it tends to cause.
  • When you’re right, don’t gloat. (“I told you so” is for second graders.) When we correct or give guidance, we can always do it in a way that doesn’t make others feel stupid or demeaned. Few things destroy a good relationship quicker than that.
  • Speaking of relationships, we’re only able to influence others because we have a relationship with them. I don’t particularly give a $#!+ what strangers think about me, but I do care about the feedback I get from those I care about. Similarly, people generally don’t care what we think unless they respect us (unless they just like to be unhappy), and they won’t respect us without knowing and having a relationship with us. The ability to influence others to put forth effort to achieve a shared goal doesn’t exist without a relationship. We don’t have to be buddies, but they have to believe we genuinely care.
  • Your opinion has less value if you express it the very first second you form it. (Shooting from the hip only works in the movies.) When we shoot off our mouths, we clearly haven’t taken time to consider the message we’re trying or likely to get across or how the receiver will interpret our words… especially if we’re angry or frustrated. The old “count to ten” rule actually works when we use it.
  • If you need help, ask for it. (“I got this” doesn’t always git ‘er done.) Most of us suck at asking for help, and while I’ve written about this before, it’s worth repeating: it’s better to ask for help early when we need it than wait until it becomes a crisis. Earlier allows us to make a needed course correction while later affects everyone involved in the product/service delivery chain. Needing help isn’t a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary, it’s a sign that you have your feces collocated and you’re comfortable and confident in your own skin.
  • “Because I said so” rarely ends the discussion. (“But why?”) Simon Sinek has a great TED Talk about explaining the why. Directive leadership (management) may be effective in a crisis or for a safety issue, but explaining the ‘why’ contributes to encouraging – and empowering – others to make good, well thought out choices in the future.
  • Finally, nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around a little. Looking for a little quiet time? Leave a big emotional wake behind you and you’ll get it. ‘Nuff said.

There you have it. If you promise not to tell her, I’ll admit that having this wonderful woman in my life made me a better leader. Everyone who’s ever worked with me or for me knows she’s the saint behind the success.

What interpersonal skills learned from one aspect of your life can you apply as leadership skills in another? Are you willing to try to admit when you’re wrong? Build relationships at work? Hold your tongue? Ask for help? I think everyone will be pleased with the results.

It’s up to you, leaders.

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