What Have You Learned Lately?

I was listening to Colin Cowherd’s radio show “The Herd” on ESPN Radio while I was driving the other day. Colin was interviewing Terrell Owens, and he asked Terrell a very fascinating question.

“What would the 39-year-old Terrell Owens tell the 29-year-old Terrell Owens? What have you learned over the last ten years that you wish you would have known then?” (I thought it was an excellent question. Don’t you?)

His answer was underwhelming, to say the least. He laughed and said, “Well, nothing really.”

Colin was incredulous. I was astounded. I couldn’t believe it.

Nothing? Really?!? You mean in ten years you haven’t learned ANYTHING?

I don’t know about you, but if the 49-year-old Mike could talk to the 39-year-old Mike, I would have a lot (and I do mean a lot!) to tell him.

I think that question raises an important point, not just about life, but about how we improve as leaders. As much as I believe in the importance of reading, attending workshops, and learning about leadership styles, philosophies, etc…. the reality is that all of these things are not enough to make you a better leader. They are “critical, but insufficient.”

To actually be a better leader, you have to perform better. You have to be able to model the way—more effectively than you did last time. You have to be a better catalyst for change than you were the last time. You have to handle the next crisis better than you handled the last one. Leaders have to lead the way—even in having a quest for continuous improvement.

Harvard Business Review recently reported on a study that identified the common traits of high-ranking executives of Fortune 500 companies who had been fired. High on the list of common characteristics was a tendency to tolerate their own mediocre performances and not learn from their mistakes.

Most of us would agree that Terrell Owens has made a few mistakes. We all have. Leaders make mistakes. The key thing, though, is to be honest with yourself and with others—and learn. Improve. Get better. Growing leaders ruthlessly review their own performances. Deliberately. They scrutinize it like Peyton Manning reviewing film from last week’s game.

Read some good leadership books, dialogue with other leaders, and attend some workshops. Those are all important things. However, in order to get the maximum benefit from it all, reflect on each leadership situation that you faced with the intent to improve and you will truly grow as a leader.

So as a leader, what lessons have you learned that you wish you would have known ten years ago?

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

2 responses

  1. Hey Mike! Love your blog! In my current leadership position, I find myself relearning the same lessons over and over. Guess the 43 year old Markay needs to learn her lesson the first time. Primarily-this is what I know: I have issues with confronting others. I don’t like to criticize or be critical and I don’t like confrontation. I openly avoid it. I find, that as a leader, this will eventually come back to bite you. Because I view what I would need to do as “criticism” as opposed to “instruction” or “help” (it’s all in the presentation, after all), I find those conversations very difficult to have. But-not having those conversations weakens my team and in turn, me and my leadership abilities. It ends up reflecting poorly on me–not the team. So-having the tough conversation makes my team stronger and I am really struggling finding the courage to have those conversations. The 43 year old Markay would tell the 33 year old Markay to “speak the truth with love” and it’s not a confrontation-it’s an opportunity to strengthen my team. However, the 43 year old Markay lacks the courage to do that. I would LOVE your feedback!

  2. Hello, Markay and thanks for the compliment.

    It seems to me that you already know what to do, but you’re not allowing yourself to apply what you already know.

    Confrontation can be an uncomfortable situation, but that’s what leaders need to do at times. It doesn’t have to mean that you come off harsh and condescending — you should be confronting your team members to let them know what they could be doing better AND to let them know when they are doing a great job. They shouldn’t only hear from you when it’s time to criticize. Provide feedback often. It will let your team know that you’re engaged, and the practice will lessen your anxieties.

    Don’t psych yourself out about it. You can do it. Just know that it will make you a better leader, and your team will have more respect for you in the end. As long as you know to “speak the truth with love”, take a deep breath and go for it.

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