Leadership is a journey where the first steps are often the most difficult. Throughout that journey you learn through your own experiences and the lessons of others. However, those early lessons are often the most critical.
These 12 most inescapable leadership teachings are a combination of both types of learning: wisdom gained from early mentors as well as experiences along the way. They apply as much today as they ever have — you can’t escape them! I hope these early lessons help you build a solid foundation or refresh you on your journey to change the world!
1. Your number one job is to build your replacement
The most important work you’ll ever do is to invest in other people. You simply cannot change the world on your own. Leaders build leaders. If you want additional responsibility or increased impact, help others learn to do what you’re doing.
2. Don’t believe your own press release
Success can easily turn sour if you start to assume all the good things you hear about yourself or your organization are automatic… that things will go well because they always have in the past. Enjoy praise and affirmation when they come, but remember the work it took. That work usually took place where no one could see it.
3. People don’t argue with their own information
You may have a great solution to a problem others don’t even know exists. The time you take to outline problems and get input from others will pay for itself ten times over. It is critical to involve stakeholders in problem solving. We are all more likely to implement solutions we have helped craft.
4. All of us are smarter than one of us (sometimes)
Crowdsourcing has demonstrated this one in many ways. No one person has all the answers or knows all the facts. But I say “sometimes” because crowds can also make pretty dumb decisions. Your job as a leader is to set clear criteria and a vision of what we can accomplish. Leaders help all of us to be smarter than one of us.
5. The greatest are the least
Humility is fundamental to influence. Humility can take many forms, but at its core it says:
“We are both human beings with value”
“I know enough to know I may be wrong”
“How can I help?”
“Come and join me” not “go do this for me” — people intuitively know if you think you are better than they are. No one follows that.
6. We, not I
Leaders say “we”, not “I.” It’s not about you, it’s about the team.
7. Bring people with you
Once I was leading a group of fifty or sixty people from outside an arena through doors, around the concourse, and down to a bank of seats on the arena floor. We each put a hand on one another’s shoulder and I set off. When I got to the chairs, however, only three people had made it with me. I had gone too fast and the team broke apart. I was a great scout that day — I found the chairs. But leaders take people with them.
8. No responsibility without authority
This one I learned very early in life. As the oldest of six, I was asked to get the house clean by the time my father returned home. I was given responsibility… but I was 12 years old. 12 year olds don’t have a lot of authority. Effective leaders do not give responsibility without also giving authority to go with it.
9. Say “thank you”
No one must do anything for you. They choose to do it. Acknowledge that miracle!
When you’re wrong, own it. Apologize and make it right. A real apology acknowledges that you were wrong.
11. Flowers bloom in their own time
As a child I would be so eager for the first spring roses or peonies to bloom that I sometimes “helped” them along. I would pry open the green leaves covering the blossom and try to coax the interior petals into the semblance of a flower. Of course, it ruined the whole thing.
Flowers bloom when they are ready and you cannot force them. People also have natural seasons and you can ruin good people by forcing things. Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.
12. Protect people’s dignity
Extend worth to everyone. Celebrate their contribution to the world. Do not spend time with those who steal another’s dignity.
Even in difficult situations such as ending someone’s employment, extend dignity. There is never a reason to belittle or make someone feel small. If you do, you will lose credibility as well as lose the person and their network.
Sometimes the early lessons are the most important. They serve as a beacon to call us back to sanity when life gets complicated.
What has been your most inescapable leadership teaching? How did you learn it?
Featured image courtesy of MightyBoyBrian via Creative Commons.