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Red Bee Principal and Co- Founder Kelly McNamara Corley Shares Her Thoughts on Leadership: Developing Leadership Muscle Memory

By Kelly McNamara Corley

As a C-suite executive who has managed people and led teams for 35 years, I thought I knew a thing or two about leadership. I’ve learned from great bosses and mentors, and I’ve read my share of leadership books.

Leadership Autopilot Syndrome

My teams have always performed well, but my leadership style became hard-wired over time. I knew how to leverage my strengths; however, I neglected to focus equally on avoiding bad habits and blind spots. I had leadership autopilot syndrome.

As leaders, we acutely focus on the development of critical competencies such as technical skill and business acumen. But are we equally committed to developing leadership skills?

If so, then what is the secret sauce for leadership excellence?

The Practice of Leadership

We have a lot to learn from professional athletes, musicians and actors about the critical importance of practice. Consider a golfer watching footage of their swing, again and again, to break down each movement or a pianist repeatedly practicing short, specific sections of their repertoire. Both are continually analyzing and making small refinements to improve their performance. Note also the cyclical nature of their processes: Practice, Analyze, Adjust and Repeat.

Similarly, leadership skills are developed and improved over time through focused dedication and practice. Here are a few useful techniques to help you become a stronger, more effective leader:


  • 360 Feedback – collect constructive feedback on what you do well and what you can improve.
  • Self-Awareness – start a journal to record what you experience or encounter each day.


  • Just like the golfer or professional musician, deliberately consider your leadership approach. Analyze the feedback and journal data. Consider what works, what doesn’t and where you can improve.


  • Is there a proven tool or technique to help refine your approach? Can a coach help you with skills or a blind spot?


  • It is not enough to read a leadership book. To enhance your leadership competency, you need to practice your leadership muscle every day. Are you refining your skills, applying learnings and feedback, trying new approaches, holding yourself accountable and raising the bar high?


  • Is it working? What are you observing about yourself as a leader, and how is your team responding? Are you collectively performing at a higher level?
  • Measure your effectiveness through engagement scores and client surveys. Hear directly from team members at all levels.


  • Sometimes, we need to adjust our approach— that’s okay. Leadership development is an iterative process. Small actionable steps are key to progress. Remember: review, adjust and try again.

In conclusion, make a personal commitment to enhance your leadership development by involving your team, seeking input, utilizing tools and sharing experiences. Ensure your talent assessments, recruitment efforts and reward programs focus on driving strong leadership behaviors. Practice daily, and you, too, can build leadership muscle memory!

For assistance in developing an individualized plan for leadership growth and organizational excellence, contact us at [email protected]