I’m inspired by your desire to change the world and I have no doubt that you will leave your mark. You have the potential to do these things. Despite what we hear about the differences that distinguish your generation from mine, our motivations are the same. The difference is that you have decades ahead of you and the opportunity to learn from the messes and the triumphs that my generation experienced.
It may be hard to believe that there is a pattern to life and that history – and leadership – repeats itself, for better and for worse. It may be even harder to learn the lessons of leadership by trial and error, as we did. Many of the most important lessons aren’t in books or even in leadership development classes. Please reflect on some heartfelt advice learned the hard way:
Leadership is relational: Many young leaders believe the best way to get things done is to push people hard. Pushing will not pay off in the long run. Leading others requires intentionally developing key relationships while defining what needs to be done. When you push, others push back often with an unwillingness to engage. People are social creatures; they want to know you and what you stand for, but they also want to be known. Building relationships is worth your effort even when you think you have “too much to do”; relationships are the foundation of leading others.
It’s about serving others: Leadership is not about what you want, but rather about what motivates others and what you can do to assist them in doing their best every day to further the organization’s goals, objectives, and strategies. Read Col. Mark Valentine’s post from last week about his journey and how he arrived at the realization that leadership was about giving, not taking.
Reflection is essential: You’ll be tempted to “do, do, do” to achieve the goals set by your organization. In fact, your job may depend on it. However, learning to find white space to reflect and listen to what’s inside is one of the most important time savers you can “do”. The clearer you are about who you are and where you are heading will result in the best and most efficient outcomes. It seems odd – but it’s true that taking this time regularly will pay off in the long run.
Listen more than you speak: Your followers want to be heard, and you need to listen to their wisdom. You cannot possibly know everything you need to know. You might just learn more when you open your ears wide. Leaders often talk too much, believing their own blah-blah about what’s important. So listen to others, and listen well. It’s one of the most important activities you can practice.
Know yourself: Your lifelong quest to become a better leader begins in knowing yourself: your values, your beliefs, what scares you, what you are passionate about, and what you are best at to name a few. These are only the beginning. The more you know yourself, the more self-actualized you become, the better leader you will be. You can then model the best of yourself for others to follow.
You can learn from others, especially those who’ve had a lifetime of successes and failures. Listen well and learn from them, and you’re on your way to becoming the best leader you can be.