Gary Winters

Coach  Workshop Facilitator Author

Can you learn to be an effective leader?


The old saw that “leaders are born, not made,” is bunk. Leadership skills can be learned. Were this not true, organizations wouldn’t be spending millions of dollars on leadership training. Personally, I believe almost anyone can become a better leader – if they’re willing to make a commitment, invest the time, and take action. Here are three ways to take your leadership practice to the next level:

Find a mentor.

Or two. Or more. Think about the people you know who you admire as leaders. Maybe you know someone who’s got a knack for inspiring others. Or someone who is great at seeing the big picture, or someone who runs a darn good meeting. Who do you know who has the ability to pull people together quickly to get something done? Who do you know who demonstrates grace under fire? These people might be in your organization (one might even be your own boss!) or they might be somewhere else – perhaps that volunteer group you joined.

Approach them and ask if you can pick their brain. Make it formal or informal, and make sure you’re creating a win/win situation (there needs to be something in it for them, too). I once asked a colleague I admire if I could take him to lunch once a month (my treat!) in exchange for letting me pick his brain on some things he does far better than me. He agreed, but changed the terms – he would get to pick my brain as well. We changed the contract; we split the checks.

Honestly, I can’t remember ever being turned down by someone when I asked for some mentoring. And come to think of it, I haven’t received much mentoring when I haven’t asked for it. So look around – who do you know that could teach you a thing or two if you asked?

Start reading

I once put together a leadership academy for a group of some of the brightest and best professionals in their field. These folks were at the top of their game, and they’d been put into positions of leadership over other quite talented people. Early on in the program, I asked them which books they had read about leadership or management (or anything similar) that had helped them understand their role. Not one hand was raised. None. They were so focused on learning their profession they had never taken the time to read something outside the box.

Don’t make that mistake. Get some books on leadership and start reading. Read two or three a year. Get them as books on tape if you like – but start reading. I’ll post some of my favorites in another post. Until then, get thee to a bookstore and pick one.

Keep a journal

Find a way to journal several times a week. It doesn’t have to be elegant – a simple notebook from the office supply store will do. Or journal on your computer. Reflect on what you’re doing, what you’re learning from your mentor, what you’re learning from what you read, and how you might apply it to your own leadership practice. One format I find useful is called the “experiential learning model,” which shows how you can learn from your experience. There are four steps: have an experience, and then ask yourself three questions: What happened? So what? Now what?

Have an experience. I ran a staff meeting today. What happened? We got way off track, and people were frustrated. So what? When staff meetings go off track, we’ve wasted everyone’s time and probably had a negative impact on morale. Now what? Maybe I can talk with Jim about how he runs his meetings – they seem to go well. I could sign up for an Effective Meetings workshop. I could go to and find a book or two on how to lead more effective meetings.

I believe that your leadership practice is something like a video game – there’s always another level you can achieve. You can do it, if you make the commitment, make the time, and take action.

“What ELSE Your Boss Never Told You” is the sequel to the very popular “What Your Boss Never Told You.” Packed inside are more tips, techniques, and insights about the challenging, but rewarding leadership position.

“What ELSE Your Boss Never Told You” is written in a conversational tone, as though you and the author were enjoying a cup of coffee and talking about the issues that emerge for new leaders. It stands alone, and/or could be read before or after the first volume, “What Your Boss Never Told You.” You can start with any chapter and read in any order you like.

if you search for a book on management, you’ll find a staggering 600,000+ books currently available. How can you narrow that down? “What Your Boss Never Told You” is the best place to start.

No textbook here – this book is short and sweet. It’s designed to help you “unpack” your new job and be effective from the first day with your new team. It contains twenty-one chapters filled with the wisdom Winters has gathered from real managers – effective, successful leaders in organizations much like yours.

Leaders make decisions every day – big and small. Most know that if they include others in the decision-making process, the quality of those decisions – and the commitment to them – will likely improve. That said, they also know it’s impractical, if not impossible, to include others in every decision they confront.

“To Do or Not To Do” tackles the question of when to make decisions on your own, and when to involve your team. It gives you a deceptively simple but proven method to determine, when you are facing a difficult decision, how to decide how to decide.

Far too many meetings are dreadful, mind-numbing, energy-draining, productivity-sapping, colossal wastes of time. As someone once said, “To kill time, a meeting is the perfect weapon.”

Here’s the deal: if you’re willing to learn and apply the techniques in “So, How Was Your Meeting?”, you’ll call fewer meetings, while vastly improving the ones you do lead. They’ll take less time, have more balanced participation, produce better decisions, and result in concrete action items for follow-up afterwards.

While there are thousands of books written for people about to retire, this may be the only book for people who manage soon-to-retire employees. Written in a casual, conversational style, “Managing the Soon To Retire Employee” will give you everything you need to know to move forward with confidence and grace.

You can be successful with Sooners. It won’t happen by chance, and it’s not a matter of pulling some management “trick” out of your hat. But you can learn how to do it, and you can apply what you’ve learned right away.

Managing friends or former peers can be awkward. When you become the boss, everything about these relationships can suddenly be uncomfortable. There’s a new set of ground rules to establish – as manager, you are going be accountable for the work performance of friends or former co-workers on the team, and they are going to have to adjust to the fact that they now report to you. Everyone involved can feel awkward and hesitant about the future. 

Have you been approached by management with an offer to promote you to supervision? Or, are you mulling over the possibility for the future? Find yourself not sure whether to accept the promotion?

If so, you’ve come to the right place. Help! They Want to Make ME a Supervisor will help you sort out a very big question: Should you accept the offer to become a supervisor? Once you’ve read this book, you’ll be confident that you’ve made the best decision for you and for your organization.