This is Part VIII of the “168-Hour” series addressing how leaders spend their available 168 hours per week to grow and develop. You can begin this series with Part I, here.
In my experiences, I have found a leader’s personal desire to learn at an individual level impacts organizational learning and culture by helping them become a catalyst for change. Formal education and external training programs expose leaders to new ideas and concepts that can be applied to the organization. For an organizational culture to be sustainable, leaders have to embrace learning at organizational level and a personal level. If leaders aren’t learning, they aren’t leading.
I would like to begin this piece by acknowledging the role that senior leaders have had in my personal and professional development throughout my Army career. There were many, but the ones listed here had the most significant impact and helped shape me to become the leader I am today. I started taking responsibility for my development as a leader when I was an Infantry Fire Team Leader in B Co. 4-9 INF (MANCHU) under the command of CPT Joe Fenty. He was a great commander and had an excellent leader development program in place for NCOs and Officers. That was the catalyst I needed, and that is when I started reading for my personal development (LTC Fenty was KIA in Afghanistan in 2006).
During my career, I had the privilege to work for Nate Allen and Tony Burgess, the authors of “Taking The Guidon: Exceptional Leadership at the Company Level“. Nate was my Company Commander when I was an NCO in A Co. 2-5 INF. Under his command, my development accelerated as I had some incredible professional experiences in training that led me to pursing a commission as an Army Officer. I worked for Tony when I was assigned to the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) and am in touch with him frequently to this day bouncing off ideas and concepts off him to learn from his perspective.
I have always surrounded myself with people I can learn from and who will challenge me. They make me better. As a junior officer, I was a member of the Company Command (CC) and Platoon Leader (PL) Forums, now known as the Junior Officer Forum. I easily spent 10 hours a week in the forums learning from my peers and sharing my experiences as a platoon leader and company commander so they could learn from me. Pete Kilner, a leader of the CC/PL Team had a huge impact on my development as a platoon leader and company commander, and I later had the privilege to work for him at CALDOL. Ray Kimball, the current Director, and Tom Morel, the Technology Director also played a significant role in my development as an Army Officer through our interactions in the PL & CC forums. The leaders mentioned gave me direction and challenged me to learn continuously and become a better leader.
A critical point in my development as a leader was when I decided to transition from the Army while I was serving as a faculty member at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. I attended a faculty development workshop led by Nick Craig from the Authentic Leadership Institute. The workshop was powerful with intense reflection and conversation with fellow leaders. For three days we worked on discovering and understanding our Authentic Leadership Purpose. I discovered mine, and it was a light bulb moment. I realized that if I wanted to continue my upward trajectory as a leader that I would need to transition from the Army. If I continued as an Army officer my development as a leader would plateau.
Discovering my authentic leadership purpose shifted my identity as a leader and led me to realize I was not just an Army Officer but a developer of leaders, a Leader Developer, and that I could develop leaders in and out of uniform. My identity as a leader developer was not tied to the U.S. Army. That realization guided my development as I started to plan my transition and made the process smoother from a mental perspective. I knew I wanted to get into the leader/talent development space and enrolled in the Columbia University Coaching Certification Plan to become a certified executive coach which is part of my leadership development practice today.
My authentic leadership purpose statement reads:
“With Steely determination, I inspire others to discover the FIRE that fuels their desire to lead.”
Discovering my true purpose led me on a path that sharply increased my upward trajectory as a leader. I encourage the reader to discover their true purpose. I urge the reader to take the time to discover their authentic leadership purpose by reading True North and then working through the exercises in the field book as well.
My personal leader development plan keeps me on an upward trajectory both personally and professionally. The reading and conversations I have in person and across my professional learning networks fuel my learning and growth.
Below are the ways that I continue to learn and grow as a leader.
Workout (6-9 hours/week): I work out six days a week, varying from 60-90 minutes per workout. Physical fitness is key to preparing for adversity and the mental challenges we face daily as leaders. There is research that supports a relationship between physical fitness, memory, and learning. During workouts is when I gain my greatest insights from my experiences, connecting horizontal concepts and ideas from different disciplines and fields.. After my workout, I have a cup of coffee and capture the lessons I have learned in the notes section of my Ipad so I can quickly recall them later if needed.
Reading (12 hours week): I read 1-2 hours a day on a wide variety of topics related to organizational leadership, as well as innovation and change. I am very interested in adaptive leadership and how organizations can become more adaptable. Another topic of interest is blockchain, which will fundamentally change how organizations manage talent acquisition and development in the near future. My reading program is oriented on the future of organizational leadership and design, and how leaders influence an organizations ability to constantly adapt and stay relevant.
Articles and Blogs (4 hours/week): I have subscriptions to Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review. I also follow Stanford Graduate School of Business online. All the resources just listed have excellent articles based on current research written for the leader practitioner so he/she can put the concepts into action almost immediately after reading.
Ted Talks and Podcasts (3 hours/week): I use Twitter as a source for finding Ted Talks and podcasts on a wide variety of topics.
Twitter and Linked In (7 hours/week): I use Twitter and Linked In to learn more about the areas I am interested in and expand my learning network. Both platforms are excellent tools for leaders to practice boundary spanning. Being adaptable as a leader requires learning outside of functional areas and roles and positions. I also share my learning on the platforms to generate professional conversation around organizational leadership concepts. I tend to follow “practitioner -scholars” who are operationalizing graduate level concepts in the context of organizational leadership.
Coaching (8 hours/week): I am a certified executive coach and coach several clients per week. I also coach several cadets that are now Army Officers. Coaching is a powerful way to develop leaders. I always end up learning from my coaching clients as I listen to their experiences and they share what they’ve learned. Read more on coaching here.
Out of the 168 hours available, I commit 40 to 43 to my personal leader development program. To be adaptable as a leader and stay relevant, you have to embrace lifelong learning. That means making time for it, make it a priority. Leader self-development is critical to developing the skills and knowledge to keep your career as a leader on track.
Jonathan Silk is a former Army Armor Officer and a former faculty member at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. He is a General MacArthur Leadership Award recipient and a doctoral student in Pepperdine University’s Global Leadership and Change program. He owns and operates his own Leadership Development and Coaching Business. You can follow him on Twitter. Jon’s views are his own and do not reflect that of the US Army, Department of Defense, or the US government.
If you find this post helpful, subscribe to receive weekly email notifications of new content!