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The Four Behaviors of Next-Level Leadership

How to move beyond efficient management to true leadership growth

Austin Ban | Unsplash
Source: Austin Ban | Unsplash

As a young leader, I focused on developing my functional skills. I spent hours learning how to manage my time better, communicate to direct reports, and effectively parse through strategy and tactics.

But these functional skills, while they helped me grow as an efficient manager, did not necessarily make me a better leader. They did not help me influence people, define visions, create meaningful connections, or make a positive impact on the world around me.

In fact, reflecting on the leaders I had worked with across some of the largest organizations on the planet, I realized that I had never seen mastery of these functional skills alone produce what I considered a true leader.

This revelation prompted me to shift my focus toward observing, examining, and experimenting with strategies that moved leadership to the next level for myself and my clients.

Over the course of many years, I identified the following set of four daily behaviors, that I now refer to as the “Phenomenal Four:"

  • Cultivating Reflective Silence
  • Capturing Meaningful Stories
  • Reinforcing What’s Important
  • Posing Curious Questions

These four behaviors are the cornerstone of the pursuit for next level leadership. Are they the only things you can or should do to grow as a leader? Certainly not. Are they things you should make a lifelong habit to continually challenge and refresh your leadership? Certainly.

Let’s explore each individually and you will see how organically they fit into your day.

First Behavior: Cultivating Reflective Silence

The first behavior (like, you will see, all the behaviors) has a shockingly descriptive title: cultivating reflective silence. This means that you sit for five minutes a day in silence, allowing yourself to reflect on the day that was.

This behavior may sound similar to a mindfulness practice or meditation. I would argue that it is indeed a cousin, but not a sibling, to these other behaviors.

Unlike mindfulness or meditation, where your aim is to cultivate a still mental space, the aim of cultivating reflective silence is to become aware of your thoughts and allow them to make connections or spark insights. There comes a point when the reflection quiets just for a moment, and at that moment, a new insight or idea springs up.

At the end of the five minutes, it is important to write down anything that came to mind or surprised you. In my own practice of this behavior, when an insight emerged I used to smile and just continue sitting quietly. After doing this for weeks, I realized that I was ignoring the best ideas I ever had. I now keep a pad and pencil on hand so that I don’t lose those ideas.

The Role of Reflection in Leadership

One of the things that separates functional management from true leadership is the distinctly human ability to process, reframe, and connect paradoxical concepts. Yet what we so often miss in our busy modern world is the time and space to allow our minds to do this kind of work.

Because reflecting quietly isn't the same thing as sitting quietly. We actually sit quietly more than you might guess: we sit quietly in meetings. We sit quietly during lectures. We can sit quietly and watch a movie. In all of these activities, we are thinking, but may not be reflecting.

To reflect is to consider things that have been heard or learned or seen or read. It is to ponder over the meaning of experiences and their relationship to you and your life.

I admit that cultivating reflective silence is a challenge for me, and yet, whenever I do it, ideas spring forth like a fountain. They are often very fresh and new, and critical to my ongoing journey as a leader.

This week, challenge yourself to try cultivating reflective silence at least twice. If you can’t do 5 minutes, start with 2 and work up. Be sure to note the difference—and tell me about it on here or on Twitter: @madelynblair!

For myself, I like to practice this behavior in the evening, sitting quietly to reflect on the day, the people who are a part of my life, and my hopes for the future.

Next week, we will explore the second Phenomenal Four behavior: capturing meaningful stories.

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