Leadership Exercises

Putting the best ideas to work!

Leadership Exercises

Putting the best ideas to work!

One of the most valuable leadership exercises you can perform is to routinely analyse and apply what you learn from the best. This will both develop good leadership qualities in yourself, and encourage learning in your organisation.

But how do you ensure the ideas of leading thinkers can be effective in your particular situation? This is the subject of our third “Guru” article. Below we outline a tool with 4 leadership exercises which will help you learn from the best then implement that learning.

In our first article: good leaders see on the shoulders of giants, we discussed what makes a guru, who they are, and how we determine their worth.

In the second article, we focused on developing good leadership qualities by asking: do gurus provide any value and why should you bother to learn from the best? We then proposed six reasons why learning from the best matters.

In this final article in the series, we introduce a tool which can be used to apply the “best” ideas in your organisation. This tool will help you to evaluate these ideas in the context of your own business or sector. Use it to combine the ideas of gurus with those of leaders and managers in your organisation. Properly used, these leadership exercises can produce better work practices.

Making The Ideas of Gurus Effective in Your Situation

Good leaders often generate numerous ideas but how do you filter these to find the most appropriate and effective? Even when this is decided, how can you be sure that these ideas are refined and successfully implemented?

Our approach to making the most of the management gurus is to take a “T” break!

The “T” break process has 4 leadership exercises – Think, Talk, Try, Tell – which help filter ideas, test them, and feedback successes to others in the organisation.

The “T” Break Model

Read more widely and think through the ideas you read. This is the best way to distinguish fad from fact, Why is this one of the most important leadership exercises? Because, as Peter Drucker wrote: “Management fads are an excellent way to replace the discipline of hard thinking.” Ask yourself: what books, articles, journals or professional magazines have you read recently? How do you keep yourself up-to-date? Use the sources and resources of leading thinkers from our first article Good Leaders Learn from the Best.


Use the wisdom and insights of those around you by discussing these ideas with your colleagues. Do the ideas apply in your situation? Can they make a significant difference to your workplace? How would you apply them? What benefit could they bring? Would it be useful to talk the ideas through with anyone else? Use Reg Revans’ “3 who’s”, explained fully in our management tools: who knows; who can and who cares.

  • Who knows about the situation?
  • Who can do something about it?
  • Who cares enough about the situation to want to do something?

Next it’s time to use one of the most powerful leadership exercises: getting things done. Try the ideas. Test or experiment (if possible on a small scale), then gather evidence and evaluate outcomes. Do the ideas seem to work? Is anything else is needed? How have they benefited your organisation?

Peter Drucker, probably the leading management thinker of his time, proposed three criteria for assessing new ideas. To screen your ideas apply the three filter tests:

  1. Operational validity – Can you take action on this idea, or can you only talk about it? Can you really do something right away to bring about the kind of future you desire?
  2. Economic validity – Will the idea produce economic result? What are the indicators that it was working?
  3. Personal commitment – Do you really believe in the idea? Do you really want to be that kind of person, do that kind of work, and run that kind of business?

Our leadership exercises don’t end at trying. What you have learned now needs to be shared.

Leadership exercises in 'Uncommon Leadership'

For more leadership exercises follow the link to our book!

Finally, discuss what you have found. Share what works and what hasn’t. What might you do next? How could the ideas be applied more widely in your organisation? Build reviews into all that you do. Whether it’s a pilot or a review of a project, learn from the experience and tell others. Take time to record what works and why.

These leadership exercises are iterative. Once the ideas have been tried and the results disseminated, return to the THINK stage for further analysis. Given the experience that you now have, what new things do you need to find out about? What else should you consider? What new opportunities may now be open to you?

To See Further…

Finally, a word of caution to consider with all the leadership exercises. In: “Hard facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense”, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton recognise the merits of learning from leading thinkers. However they suggest we stop treating old ideas as if they are new. Recognise that you are building on the wisdom of others.

“Managers build on and blend with what’s come before. Be suspicious of breakthrough ideas and studies – close examination of ‘breakthroughs’ almost always reveals “that they were preceded by painstaking, incremental work of others.”

Celebrate and develop collective brilliance. Knowledge is rarely generated just by the lone genius. Regularly develop leadership exercises which learn from the best, including those around you:

If I have seen farther than other men, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants. Sir Isaac Newton

Yon can find out more about Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton’s book on this web page including a video clip explaining key points from the book.

Leading Insights

Leading Insights e-guideIf you’re interested in developing your leadership qualities, take a look at one of our leadership e-guides. Leading Insights is packed with more leadership stories, and some leading insights into how they can be used! Insights such as:

Uncommon insights
Tipping point leadership
Find the glass
Leaders need to be cathedral thinkers
Would you recommend your service/organisation to your friends?
Putting on a performance
Would people pay to see your team perform?
Bricolage leadership
Resourceful leadership
Nudging leadership
Mirror leadership
Chameleon leadership
Catalyst leadership
Chrysalis leadership
Saliency, sagacity and serendipity
Infectious leadership
Infected leadership
Great work days
Defining moments
Conveying what you care about
The kind of goals leaders set matters
Motivating leaders

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