Leadership Skills: Who do you hang out with?

I'm speaking next week for the Health Care Association of Michigan at their leadership conference. One of the sessions I'm doing is on the "mindsets" of 21st century leadership. Times have changed, and we need to re-examine how we understand and practice leadership in organizations. And awareness of what you want to do differently isn't enough, of course–you have to start doing things differently. So when I am talking to this group about how they can work on developing new leadership mindsets and skills, I plan on asking them this question:

Who do you hang out with?

Whoever you are and whatever position you hold in your organization, you are constantly developing an approach to leadership, whether you realize it or not. You interact with people, you talk with them, you think about things–and all of this shapes your view of what leadership means or what it means to be "a leader." So if you want to make a shift–if you want to open yourself up to some new ways of thinking about leadership–then you might want to expand your network. Expose yourself to new ideas and new thinking by actively seeking to "hang out" with people outside of your own in group. This is not always natural. We often gravitate towards the people with whom we agree, but that does not always increase your leadership capacity (and if you don't believe me, Frans Johansson makes a compelling case for this kind of diversity in his book, The Medici Effect). 

In March I did two webinars as part off the "Beyond Relevance" series for associations being done by TMA Resources. In it I was connected to two interesting people–Ken Wolff from the consulting firm, Achievance, and Mark Morris from The Brand Consultancy. Both Ken and Mark work with very large corporations–a completely different world than I inhabit here at an Association Management Company. The more I spoke with each of them, the more I realized I have been too disconnected from their world. More accurately, I have been TOO connected to my own world, to people who know what I know, to people who do what I do.

This doesn't mean abandoning your in crowd, of course. You still need them. They are integral to your learning and your development as a leader. But expanding your network (and your horizons) requires clear intention and action, often in ways that feel counterintuitive and (more importantly) put you in the position of being the novice, rather than the expert. There is much to learn in that place.


  1. 19.03.2010 at 9:32 pm

    Good post. I always tell people they are the average of the 5 people they’re closest too.