Captain Fletch coming to you from the comfort of my air-conditioned home at the end of one of the hottest summers in recent years in Las Vegas! Grab your coffee cups and pull up a tailgate. It’s time for another edition of the Leadership Toolbox. 

Last month, we discussed how leaders must establish team culture and how the soundtrack in the locker rooms of our favorite sports teams can teach us something about broadening team culture. This month, I wanted to discuss something I like to call leadership fad diets. No, I am not talking about the juice cleanses my wife tries to get me to ingest every so often. (If you are reading this, honey, they’re the best!) I mean the wealth of leadership books, programs and other generally trademarked tools marketed to leaders as the solution to leadership problems, and the leaders who buy into them. I know this column is a leadership column, but I wouldn’t claim my leadership theories, thoughts, experiences, etc. as the solution to all your problems.

The idea for this discussion came as I reflected on leaders I did not exactly enjoy working under. As I see pictures in my head of one-on-one office talks with these leaders, I often look past them and noticed the same thing — the books on the shelves behind them. These leaders had something in common: They surrounded themselves with leadership fad diets.

Let me clarify. I do not think every leadership book or program out there is bad. But, I have two general criticisms. First, leaders can fall for the mistaken idea that reading one book can magically solve their leadership problems. Second, I see people use their office bookshelves to convey the façade of good leadership.

The Leadership ‘Swap Meet’

As I discussed this topic with Brock Yordy, a good friend and fellow The Driller contributor, it occurred to me that leadership growth is a lot like a swap meet. No one goes to the swap meet and says, “Well, I don’t really need all of this stuff, but I am going to buy everything. That way, I am covered no matter what.”

Imagine that we are all standing at the swap meet, each with our own table. My good buddy, Brock, walks up and looks at all the leadership tools on my table and says, “I will take all of these Jake, I don’t know if they will help my leadership, but I will throw them in the toolbox, and they will be there if I need them!” The same thing occurs when leaders buy into every leadership fad diet out there. Many of them never actually open the books or do the programs. They literally “buy” into the fad with $20 books displayed to convey to others, “Hey, I have the tools. I must be a good leader.”

Ideally, the leadership swap meet works better as a giant collaboration. People visit one another’s tables looking for tools specific to their own toolbox. This requires an awareness of your leadership philosophy and style, and a constant drive to improve them. People with passion for something see that thing everywhere because they seek it out in everything they do. This is how leadership is for me. It takes passion to embrace the honor and privilege of leading others.

In my leadership swap meet, I mosey up to the table of John C. Maxwell —or any other notable leader — and say, “I am supposed to be a leader in my organization, but I am in the middle of the organization and I don’t really have anyone to lead yet. What do I do?” He might hand me a copy of “The 360 Degree Leader,” or he might just share a bit of advice. The point is, I walk up to Maxwell’s table not to buy every book, but as part of my search through the swap meet for a specific tool that can improve the leader I know I am. 

Leaders, Know Yourselves

Leadership fad diets often fail because people trying them lack awareness of their own unique leadership identity. The fad diet attempts to copy another leader’s identity because that leader demonstrated some level of success publishing books or other materials to help other leaders. True leadership offers an opportunity for creativity — to do things with your own style, motivate people in your own unique ways. I urge would-be leaders to put a lot of thought into self-awareness, the “why” of leadership. I often see leaders who have lost the joy that comes with leading, or never had it to begin with. It’s sad.

My point is not that you should toss out every leadership book on your shelf or skip the latest podcast series everyone talks about. Leadership benefits from regular self-reflection, because leadership begins and ends with you. Determine your leadership identity and reflect on whether your actions align with that identity or not. As you grow and get to know yourself as a leader — or openly accept feedback from others, which you should — take a trip to the leadership swap meet. Pick up a book, listen to a podcast or take a class. Look for a specific tool for your toolbox. Let yourself be surprised by the unexpected find at the swap meet, a leadership lesson or theory you may have never heard of. Fad diets work for some people, but if you are looking for more out of yourself as a leader, I recommend a step back to evaluate your toolbox. You may find it full of tools you never use. Getting rid of some of them may be the first step to adding the right tools to suit the unique leader in you.

Until next time, Fletch over and out!