Leadership Step by Step

Become the Person Others Follow

 Leadership Step by Step

Author: Joshua Spodek
Pub Date: February 2017
Print Edition: $24.00
Print ISBN: 9780814437933
Page Count: 256
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814437940

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Have you noticed how many top leaders were once actors, athletes, or other performers? And how few graduated from traditional academic leadership programs?

Actors, athletes, and other performers have become U.S. Presidents, Governors, Senators, Congressmembers, Mayors, founders of well-known companies, and more. Love or hate actor-turned-President Ronald Reagan, he ranks near the top of many Presidential polls. Meanwhile, the only MBA President, George W. Bush, ranks near the bottom.

Performers-turned-leaders include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oprah Winfrey, Muhammad Ali, Sean Combs, Jesse Ventura, Jackie Chan, Al Franken, Jane Fonda, and more—not mere trend-setters. Besides not taking traditional leadership programs, many left or failed out of school. By contrast, few politicians or business leaders become performers or athletes.

What's going on? Why do top leadership programs produce few top leaders? Do traditional leadership programs actually produce middle managers? If so, what are our organizations and society losing by relying on them?

More importantly for leadership students and educators, what works that we're missing?

Leadership Step by Step is the first book to find what works elsewhere and bring here an effective new way to teach and learn leadership beyond the predominant method of lecture, cases, and biography. It leads readers to develop leadership skills, beliefs, and experiences through a comprehensive, integrated progression of exercises that I have tested and refined with hundreds of students at Columbia, at NYU, online, and with private clients.

I first learned that schools taught leadership at Columbia Business School, where I got my MBA. Before then, I figured you were born a leader or not. Business school taught me leadership principles, but implementing them after graduation felt like starting from scratch. Trying, say, to negotiate armed with principles but not experience still crippled me with anxiety.

Teaching me about leading didn't teach me to lead.

After graduating, I consumed leadership books, videos, courses, and any literature I found. They overwhelmingly focused on facts, information, and principles too, without actionable instruction on how to develop skills and experiences. While facts didn't hurt, what leader became great from knowing more facts? Facts are a commodity that computers handle better.

How performers from other fields led without leadership education remained unexplained.

Two other fields showed me how to teach people to lead. The first was how we teach performers in other fields. The second was experiential, project-based learning—a teaching method tracing its roots to John Dewey and before.

How We Teach Performance in Other Fields

Performers in other fields aren't born masters either but learn through disciplined, dedicated, and structured practice. Let's first consider how we don't teach performance.

How We Don't Teach Performance

Imagine that piano teachers taught only through lecture, cases, and biography; that piano scales as exercises didn't exist, nor other standard exercises; that everyone learned piano in classrooms at desks, listening to lectures on music theory or debating case studies about other pianists; that teachers didn't play, but researched and published instead; and that school ended with Commencement, meaning you commenced playing when school ended.

Books on habits of highly effective pianists, 48 laws of piano playing, and pianists' lives would cover principles, not playing. You would write more papers and take more tests than perform—school performances would be for classmates, not the public. You wouldn't face the anxiety of public performance, the exhilaration of nailing a performance, or the shame of blowing one.

You wouldn't expect people to play well by graduation. People who loved playing most would feel frustrated and disengage the most. Those who left or got kicked out might use their freed-up time to practice, developing their voices and learning to enjoy performing while their classroom-bound peers listened to lectures and wrote papers.

How To Teach Performance

Now imagine someone in that world invented piano scales as an exercise, not just theoretical concepts, as well as other exercises of all levels.

Then anyone could start playing. Practicing basics develops skills to play actual music. When exercises are based in theory, they teach you theory too—so it's usable, not abstract. If there are no big jumps in difficulty between the exercises, you can practice your way to mastery.

Lecture-based schools might criticize all that playing for neglecting the theory they consider fundamental. They might not recognize practicing as relevant to learning piano. They might fear their authority diminishing.

Aspiring pianists might rejoice at playing more and learning from it. Some might feel liberated from lecture and analysis. They might create for themselves more opportunities to perform, overcome anxieties, and improve faster. Some might start alternative schools.

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