One way I relax is taking pottery classes. I find it gratifying to absorb my focus on transforming a lump of clay into something functional. It has been a real challenge to improve my wheel throwing skills though. It looks easy when the instructors demonstrate a technique, but it is far from easy. In fact, it’s only now in my current class that I finally feel like I am getting the hang of it and developing some skill. This week I was reflecting on that and thinking about what I did to improve – and what I discovered are a few important factors that not only support great pottery making but great leadership as well.

  • Patience and focus – While instructors make it look easy, we know that it takes time, practice, and most importantly, patience and focus to master anything. If you are a new leader, there is a lot you need to learn, and you’ll need to be intentional about what you focus on and to be patient with yourself and with others as you develop your leadership skills. But even if you have been leading for a long time, or maybe especially if you have been leading for a long time, focus and patience with yourself and others will help you to be more present, more Thoughtful, and a better listener. That’s because patience and focus are two strengths that allow you to tune out the noise, engage fully in conversations, and avoid jumping to conclusions before hearing other perspectives.
  • Centering – The key to wheel throwing is starting with well-centered clay. If the clay is even slightly off-kilter on the wheel, it will be much harder, if not impossible, to make a usable piece. In leadership, being well-centered and purposeful is an invaluable competency. And when things get difficult, finding your center is essential to achieving a positive outcome. Well-centered and stable leadership creates a culture based on clearly stated values and principles, a focus on people as the foundation of an organization’s success, and high trust. Without centered leadership a team will be subject to the whims of their leader, wary of decisions (which likely will change) and confused about priorities.
  • Creating in the moment – Even when your creation goes awry on the wheel, being flexible and reimagining your work can lead to a great piece of art. That partially collapsed bowl can turn into an interesting abstract vase, or the mug with a lop-sided rim can be reworked into a small pitcher. As a leader, every day can throw you a curve ball. Your flexibility and ability to adjust and adapt as needed will make you a stronger and more effective leader.
  • Learn from many – Taking classes with different instructors and observing the techniques of other students has been extremely helpful to improving my pottery-making skills. When I was a new leader especially, I was keenly aware of which leaders in my organization I admired and who seemed to make leadership look effortless and positive. I was also quite aware of those leaders that were terrible role models, showing me all the things not to do in order to be a great leader. Ultimately, taking tips, cues, and guidance from multiple people and role models helps you to find your unique leadership style and be the leader you want to be.

There are many places to look for leadership inspiration, even at the potter’s wheel. And for me, the focus, patience, flexibility and openness to learn from many that I have learned from delving into pottery making, have benefitted me greatly in my work and life.

What leadership lessons have you gleaned from unexpected places?
Please leave a comment.

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