3 Ways to “Refresh” for Tech Leaders

Leadership is never a stagnant activity, and the best leaders are constantly upping their game. Here are 3 ways to refresh your skills and overall “leadership health.”
April 6, 2022
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For many of us, developing as leaders is one of those well-intentioned areas that we’re always thinking about, but too often put off until a tomorrow that never quite arrives. We’re deluged with ads for various diet plans, fitness regimes and gym memberships, and self-improvement books, but fail to apply similar tactics to our “leadership health.”

It’s always beneficial to reflect upon one’s career and personal development regularly. As you implement your organizational strategy, project portfolio, and program plans for the year, take some time to consider your leadership and personal development. This need not be a burdensome activity, and some simple ideas for refreshing your skills and personal development not only advance your skills but provide some varied activities outside your typical routine.

Execute a Tech Project

Many leaders long ago transitioned away from hands-on technology as a significant component of their workday. While it probably doesn’t make sense to embed yourself on a dev team and attempt to catch up on years of technology evolution, there’s so much easily accessible and cheap tech available that it’s easy to do a minor technology project on your own.

If you haven’t written code in decades, find one of the dozens of “hello world”-type tutorials that exist for everything from mobile platforms to desktop apps. If you’re interested in IoT, try an open-source automation package and explore automating a device or two in your home. If you’re interested in something more hardware-related, develop the specifications and build a custom desktop computer.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll create the next “killer app” or launch the next hardware company, you will use a different skill set and gain some experience in the current state of technology. You’ll also get the incredibly valuable experience of being a “non-expert” and having to approach an area you’re not familiar with.

Like most personal development activities, there’s also some applicability to work. Next time your development team talks about Jenkins or your hardware folks lament Intel’s latest socket change, you’ll have some idea what they’re talking about.

Read Something Outside your “Comfort Zone”

There are plenty of people that resolve to do more reading, and perhaps they’ll even set some aggressive goal to read a certain number of books by a specific date. However, many plans that set a lofty expectation quickly fall by the wayside.

Rather than resolving to read dozens of books or a bunch of books you’re not interested in but are on someone else’s list, read “something” outside your comfort zone. That something could be a book, of course, or perhaps a magazine or trade journal, or even a news source that you don’t typically read.

If you spend most of your reading time on tech-related publications, read a novel or travel book. If you’re fascinated by politics and typically read one or two news sources, spend a day reading independent news or a publication with a different political slant. Perhaps even pick up a philosophy classic or dust off one of those books from your University English classes that you skipped and always meant to read.

You need not grab a weighty tome or tackle an academic text, but merely reading something outside your usual domain will allow you to look at the world from a different perspective. I recently read Underground by David Macauly, a fascinating look at what lies beneath the ground in most of our cities. The book was so engaging that I read the entire (short) book in an afternoon and came away with a newfound appreciation for the engineering and ingenuity that lies beneath the roadways of a typical city.

Once again, these perspectives provide one more tool in your mental toolbox that you can apply to your work. The aforementioned book caused me to consider how critical these “unseen” things are to an overall system, whether back-office technology or thoughtful staff development.

Set a Challenging, but Achievable Fitness Goal

Fitness goals are typical of New Year’s resolutions and are usually the first to be abandoned. They’re often either too unrealistic, for example, running a marathon after a lifetime of sitting on the couch, or too general, like “go to the gym more often” or “get in shape.”

Now that we’re well past the gym overcrowded with “resolution seekers,” look for a goal that’s measurable and straightforward to plan. Endurance sports like running or cycling have the obvious distance and time metrics. Alternatively, simple bodyweight exercises like pushups or situps can be done every day from any location, with a goal to increase reps over a given period.

Moving your body in a new or different way or unpacking how to complete a physical challenge is about more than platitudes about losing weight or getting in shape. There’s an incredible mental benefit to increased physical activity and a massive benefit to setting a goal and rising to the occasion. Many people lament that our world has become rife with “instant gratification,” ranging from social media to near-instant package delivery.

Setting a physical goal, even one as simple as doing a single pull-up or running one mile, requires more than just clicking “Buy Now” or “Like.” Accomplishing something challenging outside work subconsciously drives home the fact that you’re someone that can do hard things, a valuable skill for any leader.

As leaders, it’s easy to forget that we’re also human beings with diverse interests and abilities that exist outside the workplace. These activities can often directly benefit our performance at work, whether through obvious routes like imparting relevant knowledge or the less obvious, like improving our ability to focus or accomplish difficult tasks.

If nothing else, take some time each month to think beyond the workplace needs of strategic planning and portfolio management. Consider your individual goals and objectives, and if you’re struggling for ideas, apply some of the suggestions above. You’ll become a better human, which will lead to direct benefits for your leadership.

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