Five Things I have Learnt About Leadership

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We love to celebrate and, to an extent idolize those we consider to be leaders and exalt them to superstar status. And, yes, of course, leaders who achieve credible things should be celebrated but they are still mortals like the rest of us. If you are interested in leadership then here are five things you should be aware of.

  1. Leaders are not all-round effective. In fact, most of the time they are strong at one or two things. Winston Churchill was a great wartime leader but not very effective when there was no war to fight. There are business leaders who became political leaders (won’t mention names) and they were shambolic. There are even leaders who can build unicorn-valued companies but struggle to hold their families together. Summarily, just because a leader is great in one area doesn’t mean they don’t have weaknesses in other areas.
  2. Leadership is really about exerting influence in a specific domain. According to the late Dr. Myles Munroe, “everyone was created to lead but not over people but rather in a domain or specific area.” People really don’t follow leaders, they follow their vision and achievements. Leadership always requires you to have influence first before followers. So, it’s purpose before people. As in organisations, you can employ people but if you have no clear vision of where you are going, people will show up for their paycheck with no passion or commitment.
  3. If you want to stand out you will have strong opinions. You must have things you believe in strongly and you must be willing to talk about them. That’s why people pleasers can’t be effective leaders. They are too scared of saying things that offend others. This does not mean that leaders should intentionally go out of their way to upset people. Far from it. I personally believe that good leaders strive to respect others and preserve their dignity. Nevertheless, real leaders are not afraid to share their opinions and offend some people occasionally. Consequently, from time to time they may find their mugshot plastered across social media sites with very degrading comments attached. That comes with leadership territory.
  4. You cannot lead effectively if you can’t or are not willing to be vulnerable. Brené Brown in her brilliant book, ‘Dare To Lead’, calls it ‘leaning into vulnerability’. At its core leadership is about how we respond emotionally more than anything else. Leaders will need to do things that make them uncomfortable and vulnerable and there is nothing easy about that. This single reason is why most of us don’t want to lead in anything. The emotional pain of being vulnerable is far too risky so we will rather play it safe.
  5. Finally, being highly technically competent does not make you a leader. I remember working in a company where we had a large team of software developers. They had a manager who was highly skilled in software development but he had no clue about how to deal with people. He could not encourage, motivate or empower his team. Subsequently, he was sacked. He was probably hired for his knowledge but that was not enough to get the team going. He needed to lead and leadership does require you to get people on your side to achieve the goal. That was a bit too much for him. He just had to leave.

So, these are five personal lessons about leadership that I’ve learnt. What do you think about them? Or better still, what are your personal leadership lessons?

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