As we close out this decade, let’s take a cold hard look at leadership. It is probably one of the most misunderstood and misappropriated fields of study around. To help you better understand what is real from what is fluff, I have created 5 truths about leadership based on my extensive leadership experience, leadership research, interviews with executives and teaching in a top-20 university Organizational Leadership program.
1. Leadership is a process, not a skill.
Everyone has skills, but without a refinement process, those skills may never be fully developed. That is why the top academic programs teach leadership as a process. The process involves understanding yourself, creating a leadership vision, executing on that vision, reflecting on how you performed as a leader and receiving coaching feedback. The internal (from reflection) and external (from coaching) feedback is what separates good leaders from great leaders.
2. Leadership is a lifelong journey.
One of the greatest mistakes leaders make is believing that once they have reached a certain level, there is little more for them to learn about leadership. If there was nothing more you to learn once you became a leader, then people would still be leading organizations the same way they did 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago. Leadership is constantly evolving due to generational shifts, gender role changes and cultural adaptation, to name a few. Leaders who fail to recognize the major and minor changes facing them, will eventually become a less effective leader.
3. Leadership is hard work.
If leadership was easy, everyone would be a great leader, but it’s not. The best leaders are constantly thinking about and reviewing how they will lead and reflecting on how they did. As a person rises higher in their organization, the more important leadership becomes. The job is no longer about marketing, finance or medicine, it’s about leadership. The best leaders surround themselves with the right specialists to be the most effective.
4. Leaders need reflection and coaching.
As touched on earlier, leaders need regular internal and external feedback to realize their full potential. Sadly, these are the areas most neglected by established and aspiring leaders. Reflection helps the leader know them themselves better than anyone else. Coaching provides independent insight on how the leader can improve and holds them accountable to what they have agreed to work on. Both processes are critical to ongoing leadership growth.
5. Some people are just better at leadership than others.
A lot of leadership is derived from innate qualities. Just like dancing, some people are naturally better at it than others. This should not come as a surprise. ‘Natural’ leadership abilities can be identified at a young age. Think about the first game kids play. It’s called ‘Follow the Leader’ and is usually led by person the other kids have identified as the leader. Not everyone will be a great leader. Some will be good or functional leaders and that’s alright also. We need leaders at every level of every organization.
If you can embrace these 5 truths about leadership then you will be on your way to becoming a better leader, because you will be better able to discern who or what is behind the proverbial curtain of your leadership development. Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments below and keep leading every day.