Grow Your Leadership by Practicing Stretches

Leadership LessonsBrigida SwansonComment
Taking risks and working on challenges helps us to stretch our leadership skills and step out of our comfort zones.

Part of being an effective leader is taking action to constantly learn and grow. By working within a mindset of lifelong growth, you can develop your strengths and push yourself out of your comfort zone. Although you lead from your strengths, it’s also important to recognize the stretches and challenges that you admire in others and want to improve for yourself.

A stretch is a personal leadership skill that you’re interested in developing. It’s something that you don’t have a lot of confidence in yet but want to put in effort to improve. Not only does practicing a stretch build up your confidence in that skill set, but the process you go through to develop the skill is a lesson in itself on how to take risks.

Find Your Stretches

Your leadership stretches are often the opposite of your strengths. For example, because my strengths include organization and striving for achievement, my stretches include their opposites like letting go, personal balance and spontaneity. I use my organizational strength to develop my stretches by paying attention to how I use my time and saying no to projects or events in order to give myself permission to spend time relaxing without a specific plan. If you aren’t sure what your leadership strengths are, take a look at what I’ve written about starting with your strengths.

You can also determine your stretches by reflecting on leaders you admire. What qualities do they have that make you think, I wish I could be like that? What skills do your role models possess that you wish you could gain confidence in doing yourself? Make a list of people you admire and the personal strengths, skills and actions they do that lead them to success. If you list enough people, you will start to see a running thread of leadership traits that you can work on.

When my students reflect on their biggest stretches, they come up with repeating themes. Using positive self-talk to work through frustrations, staying focused when work is challenging or boring, sharing ideas with others in groups and handling stressful situations are all leadership skills that many of the girls I work with want to improve. Do any of these stretches resonate with your own life?

Once you’ve come up with a decent list of stretches, choose one leadership skill from your list to focus on for your personal growth. Commit to working on this stretch for a set amount of time, such as a month.         

Practice Taking Risks

The most important thing to remember when developing your stretch is that all the work you’ll do is a personal experiment. Working on a stretch means that you’re in a state of practice. You have identified this stretch because it’s something that’s challenging for you, so you shouldn’t expect to achieve perfection when you start out (or ever, really). Flipping your mindset to one of growth will help you to open yourself up to the learning that can be gained through regular practice. Here are four strategies to get you started on practicing your stretch.

1. Write a Script

If your stretch has anything to do with communication, like saying no, speaking up or asking for help, writing a script for what you want to say can boost your confidence when you start to practice. If your stretch doesn’t deal with communication, you can still write a script of each specific action that you will take when practicing.

Make a list of options for things you can say or do to practice your stretch. You can also try saying these things to your mirror or to a pet before you put them into practice in the real world. It might seem silly, but it can be an effective way to try out the words and actions in a safe space so that you can learn how it feels similar or different to how you usually act.

2. Observe Your Thoughts

When practicing, notice any thoughts or emotions that surface in the moment, but don’t place any judgment on them. Take a step back mentally and notice what is going on in your mind and body. What physical reactions do you have when working on your stretch? Are your muscles tense or relaxed? Is your stomach in knots?

Pay attention to any thoughts that come up and acknowledge their existence by thinking, I notice a feeling of __, or I notice a thought of __. Look at your thoughts and emotions as objectively as you can, but don’t try to come to any solutions. The observation alone is enough to bring a more mindful approach to practicing your stretch.

3. Schedule a Time to Practice Daily

Plan a time that you can intentionally practice your stretch every day. If possible, schedule it to occur first thing in the morning. This will help you to get it out of your way so that you won’t have to think or worry about working on your stretch for the rest of the day. If you practice your stretch first and then go on with your life as usual, you can have a sense of accomplishment that you stretched even if that process didn’t work out in the way you hoped.

4. Create Your Own Opportunity

Don’t wait for an opportunity to present itself for you to practice your stretch. If you wait, the moment probably won’t come, or if it does, you might not be prepared to take the risk of stretching. Instead, seek out or create your own opportunities to practice your stretch. The more you can take these risks, the more the fear surrounding the stretch will diminish.

As you continue to work on your stretch, the risk of failure will become less important over time. Pay attention each time that practicing your stretch results in a perceived failure, or in something unexpected or surprising. Intentionally searching for what you can take away from your experience and you’re your failures will help you to learn how to work with mistakes effectively instead of using them as excuses to give up.

To help you get started on your journey of practicing leadership stretches, I encourage you to reflect on the following questions.

1. What is your personal definition of leadership?

2. What are some strengths of leaders you respect?

3. What are some specific leadership or personal skills you want to work on?

4. What resistance or motivation do you feel about stretching?

5. What strategies will you use to work on developing your stretch?