The Seven Greatest Leadership Lessons Leaders Can’t Live Without
We all know that we should keep learning as leaders. So I thought it was about time I packaged up some of my greatest leadership lessons leaders can’t live without and share them with you. Leadership lessons that can’t be ignored if you plan to strengthen your leadership.
Leadership is a lifelong learning process.
Every great leader always looks for ways to improve. Leadership is a lifelong journey through different experiences every day. Every situation, every experience, every lesson learned sheds more light on this enormously demanding duty.
Great leaders share many of the same attributes and philosophies whether they are from the past or currently inspire us in the present.
I think we can all agree that some people are natural leaders. However, anyone can increase their leadership acumen by merely learning leadership lessons from other successful leaders.
I have learned that leadership is as much an art as it is a rocket science.
As such, it’s something you never really stop learning about. Every experience has taught me new lessons and new ideas and new techniques. Despite your expertise, skills and education, nothing can prepare you for becoming a leader. There’s a lot of trial and error and on-the-job-training that you’ll experience as you grow as a person.
Being able to effectively lead your team is an essential building block for long-term success. It’s your turn!
At the end of the day, your abilities as a leader end up directly impacting your ability to make change in the world and inspire others to achieve great things with you. Here are the seven greatest leadership lessons I’ve learned — mostly from my own experience — and that leaders can’t live without.
Lesson #1: Lead With Humility
As a leader, you are not the most competent person for everything in the organization that you are leading. The biggest organizational competence comes from the possibilities to integrate specific individual’s competence in the function of organizational goals.
Being a leader does not mean knowing more than anyone else.
Recognize, encourage and promote others as experts. Give them the trust and autonomy to be creative and do excellent work, defined in their terms. You simply provide the direction, so that this excellent work contributes to a shared purpose.
No leader should be corrupted by his power. Be an example, not just king of the mountain in a kid’s game.
All that power and influence should be used to serve people. They will pay threefold back with respect, support, and loyalty. Make your leadership worth following. Leadership means being very human and working for others.
Humility defines leadership. Successful leaders are humble, recognizing many people and levels contribute to an organization.
They build teams that provide acknowledgment of great work and tolerance for risk, including losses. Leaders who fail often lack humility, routinely taking all of the credit and none of the blame. They have weak teams, leaving no soft landing when they themselves stumble.
Great leaders don’t drown their people and mandate things get done a certain way.
They outline expectations and drip lessons to them but give their people the confidence to make their own decisions. They let those who follow them have a chance to offer what they think and propose solutions to problems.
Don’t be too serious. Have fun. Make the business environment enjoyable.
We spend too much time at work for it to be boring. Nothing can beat the effects of a company outing or a celebration after reaching an important milestone. Encourage practical jokes; encourage laughing.
Lesson #2: Aspire to Inspire
Leaders who are truly passionate about their work see great success. Enthusiasm and drive are infectious qualities. Having a sense of purpose and meaning for your work — knowing what rocks your world, will guide others to strive for that same job satisfaction.
Knowing your values, aligning them with the values of your company, and then practicing value-based leadership will garner great results.
Employees are like seeds. It’s the leader’s job to plant the seeds, water them, and watch them grow. Neglect the seed and it won’t grow. Leave it once it becomes a plant, and it will die. So nourish and help employees grow. It’s part of being a leader.
Make sure you’re passionate about what you are leading your team toward accomplishing. If you’re not passionate about achieving this goal, you’re leading the wrong organization.
If getting up that hill is something you’re not passionate about, it is going to be very hard to get up that hill. If you are not passionate about the change you are working towards making in the world, you need to stop what you’re doing and find yourself an organization whose mission and purpose is aligned with your own.
A quality of great leaders is being able to clearly articulate ideas and get people excited and inspired about them. It’s not selling people on an idea, it’s inspiring them.
Getting a person to work with a leader when they’re not obligated is more than just inspiring them. It’s about ensuring people have fun. Employees at Google can work at dozens of other places, but they choose Google because of the culture and challenges.
Nevertheless, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You cannot transform teammates into something they’re not.
You can inspire as best you can, but some motivation has to come from within. They have to have an inner fire to make a difference, and without that, no amount of effort on your part will allow them to realize their full potential.
Remember that everybody is different, and whilst one person may benefit from some ‘tough love’, another might feel discouraged as a result.
Good leaders will get to know their teams and how they react to different occurrences at work. Adopting this when you become a manager and above can help you to develop a better leadership style.
Lesson #3: Take Calculated Risks
Great leaders extend beyond their comfort zones to take risks. They aren’t careless, but they know to be better than the competition and to improve it requires doing what others are unwilling to do to innovate. Mistakes and missteps are just part of the process, and successful leaders accept that.
Leaders must be able to take ownership when they screw up. They must even take ownership when their employees screw up.
Expansiveness is a vital ingredient to success as a leader. Having the ability to see things from various perspectives, to not take no for an answer, and to deal with ambiguity — these are all valuable skills that contribute to a leader’s appeal.
A good leader can push through fear, assess risk and take action when action is required. At times, the tough decisions leaders make are the ones that others cannot make.
Criticism can be difficult to hear, even when it is constructive. However, true leaders are often criticized at work, because they are held responsible for their performance and the performance of their team. Learning from your mistakes and picking yourself up quickly will help you to develop through your career.
To be successful as a leader there is an inherent need to take risks.
Since leaders are forever venturing into uncharted waters, they are, of necessity, risk-takers. They are willing to experiment. In their quest for the new and the better, leaders are open to ideas. They are willing to listen to others, and to try untested approaches, accepting the risks of failure that accompany all experimentation.
There are risks associated with doing nothing.
Careful consideration of the potential effects of taking and not taking a risk can provide us with the costs and benefits of each action or inaction. Rarely when faced with a decision about a risk must we act immediately. Thus, it is prudent to explore all possible outcomes before making a decision — this is the meaning of a calculated risk.
Lesson #4: Treat People Like Royalty
One of the ways in which to foster positivity is to treat the people who work for you as equals. This positivity comes from the top down, so make sure to foster these things in yourself and teach your team to follow suit.
It’s too easy, as a leader, to feel like you have to be the one who knows everything. Great leaders recognize that they also need to learn, and they create opportunities to do so.
Surrounding yourself with individuals much more experienced than yourself, who have already achieved what you want to achieve, is critical to your ability to quickly learn what you need to learn in order to succeed.
Truly impactful leaders have a passion for people.
They care about others, and genuinely want to see others succeed. They create people-based cultures, and wholeheartedly understand the power of relationships. They are invested in the well-being of those who surround them.
Are you giving input to the team? Are you present when things are going well or only if things go poorly?
If there is no actual input into the team, then the leader is just a user of people’s energy, an energy vampire. How much effort and energy the leader puts into the work defines the actual role and status of the leader.
When leaders invest in their team, the team invests in the company. Leaders should understand that leadership isn’t about them, it’s about the team.
Without a team, there’s no need for a leader. Investing time and resources in developing team members is the best way to improve the culture and employee engagement. Leaders should pay attention to who is in their circle of influence.
Don’t try to make employees into something they’re not.
You want employees to be their true selves so they can excel. Rather than improving on their weaknesses, continue to improve on what they are already good at, making them the best at what they enjoy. Having great people who love what they do and do it with passion and focus can often make up for a weaker product or process.
Lesson #5: Adversity Is Not Your Enemy
Just like leaders need to surrender, they also need to have an insane amount of resilience. Ask any successful leader and they will tell you that things go wrong all the time — especially in the beginning. It’s your job to keep going anyway.
Successful leaders know that overnight success takes years, if not decades.
While some people catch big breaks, they are truly few and far between. The key is to show up and do the work every single day, even if it doesn’t look like you’re making any headway. Times change, and while it’s perhaps one of the hardest lessons on leadership you must learn, you must accept that you will need to change along with the times.
The best leaders are those who make commitments — and follow through.
They build trust by leading by example, and don’t shy away from tough situations. These leaders are able to build trust and valuable relationships with others, and in turn, they receive the same respect.
Wise leaders take present success as a step to future achievements.
They recharge, learn the new lay of the land, and get ready to work hard again. Leadership is a never-ending journey where every single mile is full of new tests and trials. You must consciously allow for the re-examination of your approach frequently to be successful in the future.
Change can be unnerving at times, but it’s a leader’s role to guide the team through this change.
Whilst boosting productivity and ensuring everyone feels comfortable within their role. A great leader will show times of change as an opportunity for their team members to shine and display their creativity in the workplace.
Confront adversity head-on.
Simply, turn adversity in your biggest advantage. You cannot allow yourself to pretend that catastrophe is not here, you need to work clear what happened and become stronger and clever from the experience you have.
A leader must be a rock and ensure the vision of the prospective future is much greater than any problems.
Confidence in inevitable success brings calmness and effectiveness in achieving goals. If a leader is not confident in what he or she is doing, then employees will be even less so. If a leader is confident and calm, employees are calm and confident as well.
Lesson #6: Listen More
Leaders who listen are able to create trustworthy relationships that are transparent and breed loyalty. You know the leaders who have their employees’ best interests at heart because they truly listen to them.
People will pay attention to what you say, just because of your position.
The leader’s job is to pay attention to what other people say, especially those who think their views don’t count. Show you’re listening by acting on what people tell you, and gain their trust by giving them the credit.
People aren’t motivated by what you want them to do, they are motivated by what they hope to achieve.
Great leaders find out what motivates others — and the only way to truly understand what others want is to listen. Without keen listening skills, we lose the ability to connect with others, and having strong relationships is what gets you further in life — especially as a leader.
While you might hope that your team will tell you difficult information without you having to ask for it, oftentimes they won’t. You need to be actively seeking out unpopular opinions.
This is especially the case when it comes to expensive company strategy. If your team is withholding data that doesn’t necessarily support the strategy that you might be about to spend millions of dollars pursuing, this could be catastrophic. You want to encourage heretics and people who will think differently than you.
Listening goes well beyond being quiet and giving someone your full attention.
It requires you to be aware of body language, facial expressions, mood, and natural behavioral tendencies. Listening should be a full-time job when you consider the uncertainty embedded in the workplace and the on-going changes taking place.
Lesson #7: Set The Scene
Keeping people coordinated and aimed is a continual process. You’re the luckiest leader in the world if this happens by default. Two ways to ensure people are coordinated and aimed is setting milestones and being with each employee to see how they work.
Your team know what they do, but you can make a big difference by sharing a strong sense of why they’re doing it and where it’s heading.
Help them develop a broad understanding of the team’s purpose, and faith in how their role contributes to the whole. A great leader ensures there is a clear goal-oriented plan in place and communicates it to everyone who is expected to help achieve the goals. If obstacles are faced that cause the plan to change course, great leaders communicate the changes and the reasons why.
Take time to share your rationale and the thinking behind your decisions, particularly with those you are giving direct instruction to.
People will follow a good leader, but people will follow a good leader even further if that good leader takes the time to explain the reasoning behind what they’re deciding. Always take the time to explain the mental math behind your decisions.
I had no patience with errors, and it took me a while to understand why I wasn’t able to teach the importance of accuracy.
After a lot of self-reflection and conversations, I realized that when you tell people to do something without providing the context of why it’s important, they will not give it their best. As a leader, it’s important to do things right — but to also do the right things.
You need to speak clearly enough to get your point across as well as a balanced delivery of firm and delicate messaging.
Leaders need strong, clear messaging to get the results they want. If you aren’t seeing the results, stop talking and find a new approach. Learn the needs and motivations of your key stakeholders. Determine how to better position your message to reach the desired actions and results.
You may have noticed a common theme throughout this article: Leaders know how to balance opposing things. They know how to inspire people, but not too much so as they still listen to them. They know how to face challenges, but they are humble enough to know their own weaknesses.
No matter what, successful leaders make the most of each moment. Being present is not an idea, a mood, a thought: It’s an awareness that is rich with heart and learning.
Whether they gain a learning experience from a failure or create an opportunity where there didn’t appear to be one, successful leaders are highly proficient at making every moment count and help them make forward progress to achieve their goals.
Leaders are masters of simplicity who bring order by conquering chaos in people’s minds and actions.
They bring people together, and build confidence for the future. Thus, great leaders are always in demand as people need them and their unique qualities to complement and develop theirs.
Just because some people are natural-born leaders doesn’t mean that leadership necessarily comes naturally.
Growing into an effective leader of your team takes a ton of learning — and some have to do it the hard way. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t live up to your own expectations. Reflect and learn from those times when you stumble and fall over these leadership lessons.
These are but a few ways you can prepare yourself to lead. There’s no set rules. You just have to be open to learning and growing.
What have been your top leadership lessons learned? Let me know in the comment section below what leadership lessons you value and what you would add to this list.