There’s an age old debate about whether or not leaders can be made, or if you have to be born that way. Nevertheless, every year, countless professionals of all experience levels and all walks of life decide to invest in themselves to hopefully become the next great leader.
There are a plethora of degrees, certificates, specializations, seminars and other educational means available to learners today. Often times, they are meant to serve as the next check mark in their road to prosperity. I challenge you to ask yourself what they really mean? An advanced college degree like an MBA or a Masters in Organizational Leadership must be the answer right? If not, perhaps a certification from a prestigious institution like Wharton or Booth where you can hear others tell you about leadership alas learning all you need to know in a week or even in a few days. At the very least a weekend seminar from Steven Covey or Tony Robbins or another renowned leadership pundit will cure any holes in your arsenal.
Of course, if the above options find themselves too intrusive, expensive, or don’t fit into the plan, there are always the self improvement books that are out there, proclaiming the perfect blueprint for leadership prosperity. Above mentioned authors Steven Covey and Tony Robbins. Both have written lots of great rhetoric on leadership. Jack Welch (Former GE CEO), Steve Jobs, and Herb Kelleher (Former CEO of Southwest) all have books that tell their story (In quite a compelling fashion if I may say) of leadership and how they made their companies rise like the tide throughout times or success and riches as well as during times of bitter economic turmoil.
Having done an Executive MBA, and having attended more than just a few seminars, I can say first hand, a lot of great information can be learned through formalized study. Pairing the formal education with a book shelf holding countless books on leadership, management, success, and other business topics, it is safe to say I have read a lot of books about the subject. Eerily, I find many of them to be very similar, and at times they begin to almost read as one continuous novel of regurgitated facts and opinion.
So with all of the tools out there, leadership must be attainable for anyone willing to put in the work. Read the books, go to school, perhaps land yourself a great mentor and you will be fine. Well, I’m not here to debate where leaders actually come from, but what I do want to share today is as follows.
With all of the great programs on leadership offered in schools, written in books, and evangelized by speakers, some of my greatest leadership lessons have come from life. Here are five lessons in leadership that I would love to share with you.
Great leaders don’t always do the right thing even when people are looking
Part of being a leader is being human. While we expect those that lead us in our day to day life (Boss, Community Leaders) as well as those on a larger scale ( Fortune CEO’s and World Leaders) we have to realize that these people suffer from the same human condition as you and I. Mistakes will be made, by everyone, the sooner you realize that and the sooner you figure out learning from them is the key. The better leader you will become.
Leadership is very hard, even if it is innate
It doesn’t matter if you have been a leader from birth or were promoted for the first time yesterday. Leading others or leading ideas are both very hard. You may some day read that somewhere, but however hard they tell you it is, multiply it by a large number, square it, and raise it to the nth power. Okay, perhaps an exaggeration, but not by much. As a continuation of number one, you need to immediately realize that anytime you are dealing with other human beings, things will not be easy. When you become responsible for others in a leadership roll, at times it can be near impossible. However, let me be the first (Or insert actual number here) to say that when you connect and lead even a few successfully it is incredibly rewarding.
You will never be able to lead everyone
I have yet to come across more than a few humble (and quite successful) leaders that will admit they have struggled to lead certain people or personality types. This one is actually quite simple. You will find throughout your personal and professional life that you cannot connect and lead everyone in every group. This is where putting others on your team and surrounding yourself with great people is the key to success. If you find that you are a big picture leader, you may very well struggle with highly technical types that are very invested in the details. Guess what? Not a big deal, you just need to find someone that can empathize with that audience, but understands your passion, and then delegate.
Your leadership style has to be you
Nobody likes a phony. Check that, no one that I associate with likes or enjoys the company of a phony. And guess what, people don’t follow others that they perceive as fake. Genuineness is immeasurably key to successful leadership. While trust from your team, co-workers, boss, friends, and family is almost always built a bit differently, it is almost uniformly destroyed in an instance when people don’t trust you. Focus on being real, being you, and leading people naturally from within. While it may sound a bit cliche, it isn’t. If you try to be someone you’re not or emulate something you’re not, people will take notice. When they do, it is often the end of any respect you have earned and that is a death sentence to an aspiring leader.
The real world doesn’t value your education as much as you do
Formal education is a great thing. As I mentioned above, it provides a lot of great insight and keeps the mind fresh. It often gives you an opportunity to better understand concepts and why they are important. What education doesn’t do is build you a reputation of success as a leader or much else for that matter. Unless of course your goal is to be an educator. Being a professor myself, I still feel the students are more interested in what I have accomplished outside of school than what I have done in the classroom. (The sad thing is, I had to get the MBA to teach, but 99% of the value I bring is from what I do in the real world) Bottom line is, school is nice, but the real world will judge you on what you accomplish in your respective field. Whether that is medical or being a wonderful parent. Further, you can read all of the Chicken Soup books and still be a bad parent/friend/spouse/neighbor.
While some of these things may come as a surprise to you, others may not. For me, the items above were all things that at the very least stopped me in my tracks momentarily. In academia, at times, the bubble surrounds and protects you in a way that you believe that the world may actually operate the way it does on campus. In the books, everything sounds so clear cut and easy; All you have to do are these 3 things and everyone will be mesmerized by your every word and you will become an instant peer to your industries greatest leaders. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. The books and the school is meant to provide you context. If you use it that way, it can be a great support tool as you adapt to your surroundings. I certainly recommend it as a stepping stone in self development and would never advise anyone against continued learning. What the formal education is not; it is not a road map for successful leadership. That kind of leadership has to start with you, your values, your knowledge, and all the other intangibles. All together and aligned in perfect harmony, that my friends creates great leadership.