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Author Interview: Steve Boehlke

Today we're talking with Steve Boehlke, author of 50 Lessons on Leading for Those with Little Time for Reading

FQ: To whom or to what do you credit your own insight into leadership?

Human behavior never ceases to amaze me. What motivates or inspires others and how it happens has always intrigued me. I have gained the most insight into leadership by observing individuals’ behavior in diverse settings from top tier executives in global corporations to volunteers in rural communities of developing countries. I have learned the most by simply watching how people respond, seeking to notice and honor differences. While there is frequently the tendency to assume that leaders will have “answers” (and we often want or need our leaders to have all the answers), I have concluded from observing peoples’ responses, that more trust is established and deeper bonds are created by a leader asking powerful questions. I have always been curious, especially about leadership.

FQ: Being a good leader and helping others become good leaders are clearly different callings. How did you first become interested in teaching leadership?

For me interest in “teaching” leadership grew out of my experience of feeling like an “outsider” when I was younger. I doubt that many people who knew me perceived me as an outsider. While it was not an intentional decision in any given moment, over a period of years I began to realize that by definition a leader is often something of an “outsider”. I was curious how leaders establish the proper balance or tension between being “connected” to followers, and being “different”. Some measure of “distance” is necessary to see the possibilities and have the perspective that others do not share. Also, I was perplexed how leaders I knew could have so many “blind spots,” something which, of course, is human-all-too-human.

FQ: How can ordinary people, who do not find themselves often in leadership positions, benefit from the lessons in this book?

First, to confirm and reiterate what I write in the book, leadership is not a matter of position, though we are often conditioned to think that way. Mindset is the attitude or mental model that we bring to a given situation or set of circumstances. Anyone can make a difference if they choose to do so. That requires a mindset that is intentional and open to unexpected opportunities. Choosing to read and reflect, even meditate, on just one lesson a day can help establish a new mindset. Pick one lesson for a week (there are 50 lessons which just about carries the reader through a year). Write it on a post-it note and put it on your mirror. Watch for how others embody that lesson as you move through the week. More importantly notice how you could practice that lesson for yourself. If you actually try this, I suspect you will be quite surprised with results.

FQ: This is a great list of insights, and I can understand that you would want to share it with others. How did you first get the idea to present the list in this format?

Several related “nudges” took me in the direction of this format. The tipping point was when I received a book in the mail one day from Blurb, a self-publishing website. I had not ordered the book nor created it. I opened the package only to discover a proto-type of 50 Lessons, one lesson on each brightly colored-page. A good friend had submitted some of the lessons I had shared with him and had the proto-type published and sent to me. While it had none of the graphic elements now embodied in the book, I saw for the first time what it could be. A very talented graphic artist and his staff collaborated on the graphic representation. Friends and creative partners make all the difference.

FQ: Was it a difficult process to arrange the 50 Lessons visually? Were there some that were harder than others to create images for?

At one point I was thinking of using photographs to illustrate each lesson, but then I realized that would restrict or limit the reader’s imagination or associations with a particular lesson. In working with the graphics firm, we agreed we would work only with type face and lay-out as opposed to drawing pictures or using photos. Some lessons took more “drafts” than others; others just “popped”. The substantial amount of white space on most pages is aligned with our hope that the reader will create space to reflect and ponder on the lessons, maybe even jotting down notes and ideas on the pages of the book itself. Sometimes less is indeed more.

FQ: What do you see as the benefits of developing leadership skills?

Leadership skills cannot be developed and practiced in a vacuum. A compelling purpose or a higher cause prompts the aspiration to lead. At the same time, a crisis can become the occasion for one to exercise leadership skills that a person may not have even realized he or she possessed. The benefits are having the capacity to move others toward a common goal or achieve some purpose that is important, if not critical, to accomplish. Developing leadership skills is very much the art of self-development. It equips and empowers individuals with greater capacity to confront and embrace whatever life throws at them.

FQ: Do you believe that some people are born leaders? Or can anyone learn?

Some individuals indeed seem to have more natural ability to influence others or to lead. Everyone, however, can benefit from attending to their “blind spots” and honing their skills – whether communication style, work practices, or self-discipline. The greatest obstacle to learning leadership is limited self-awareness. Individuals who refuse or do not continue to grow in their understanding of themselves as a unique person cannot and will not develop as leaders. I believe anyone can learn leadership skills if they have the intent and willpower to grow and to practice. Leading one child may make all the difference in the world.

FQ: When is the right time to begin teaching leadership skills?

Being attentive to “teachable moments” whether a child’s behavior on a baseball diamond, a manager’s poorly communicated message, or a national tragedy is more important in terms of “timing” than chronological age. Leadership skills can be taught from the time a child learns the potential benefit of sharing toys. Parents are very powerful role-models and inevitably have an impact on how individuals relate to the world around them, across one’s life-span. Exercising curiosity and practicing creativity are very important aspects of continual growth as a leader; the groundwork for such activity is established at a very young age.

To learn more about 50 Lessons on Leading for Those with Little Time for Reading please visit our website and read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

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