Leadership isn’t learned in a binder, baby

Posted April 25, 2011 in Latest News & Insights

This week’s community #usguys #usblogs topic is courtesy of @gabyorourke (who also happens to be one of our super fabulous members) and is on “Leadership lessons you didn’t learn in school”.  Since launching the Executive Roundtable, we’ve been running an executive forum every year along the same theme. My short response to this theme would be “basically everything”, but after 3 years and over 50 executives “gracing” our podium, I thought I’d share some of the lessons they’ve provided along with my own observations:

  1. Actually, leadership isn’t “taught” in school… somehow the MBA has evolved to be the “seal of leadership ability” approval.  And yet, review most MBA curricula and less than 10% of the learning focuses on leadership.  Ironic and leads me to the next point:
  2. EQ will trump IQ every time… being “smart” is, frankly, the price of entry to get to the senior leadership ranks.  What I’ve observed separates the truly great leaders from others is their so-called “soft skills”… empathy, communication, listening skills.  Without these skills, you’re mostly relying on “position power” to get results… which doesn’t last over the long haul (unless you’ve got military backing like Castro).
  3. Values are the heart of it… on our podium, I’ve seen people who are exceptionally clear on their personal values (and will share this “warm and fuzzy” fact with the audience).  These leaders always come across as being comfortable in their own skin and our audience always resonates with them.  People will refer to these leaders as being “authentic” and, in my observation, it’s what truly engages people
  4. Leaders get better with age… we’ve had some bright, talented young leaders on our podium and yet, you can really see how they’re still trying to get comfortable in their skins (see point 3).  I think, like a fine wine, a great leader – with the right ingredients – gets better with age.
  5. Leadership and management are two different things… most people use these terms interchangeably, but the reality is, the skills needed to lead are different from those needed to manage.  And, in my observation, good leaders don’t necessarily make great managers and vice versa.  Those who make it to the top figure out how to balance both.  Many a “leader” will get derailed or suffer career stall if they stay in the weeds of “management” and many a “manager” will never make it beyond a certain rank because of their inability to delegate and get out of the way of their teams.
  6. Being a leader is a huge responsibility… and an amazing opportunity.  In the leadership role you can directly affect the lives of the people on your teams for better – or for worse.  You can make or break people’s careers, spirits and health.  And, this is the part that I think many people in leadership roles forget.  We can get so wrapped up in our own pressures (because in today’s workplace, they can be many… especially for leaders in the mid-ranks) that we forget about the daily impact we can have on our teams.  Which leads me to another key observation:
  7.  Self care is massively important… to lead other effectively, you have to look after yourself.  If you are burned out, bitter, and at the end of your emotional rope, you won’t be able to lead and will find yourself sporting an MBA of a different kind (Masters in Bad Attitude).  Like marriage or parenting or any other key relationship in your life, to be the best you can be, you have to make sure you’re looking after yourself first before you can bring your best to other people.
  8. Failure is the best teacher… the best thing that can happen to any leader is to fail and fail early in their careers.  Failure teaches humility and it also teaches resilience… two of the most important ingredients in leadership.  I always worry about fast tracking 30-something’s who’ve never experienced a big career “ooopsy”.  It’s tough to bounce back when you don’t know how.

Reflecting on my own 20 year career in leadership, it’s been an ongoing process of understanding myself and reflecting on my various missteps in order to be slightly better each day.  I’ve learned tons of techniques and approaches in classrooms, conferences and yes, even binders… but the key has been to act on the learning, evaluate the results, adjust and move forward.  Most of my biggest lessons have come from my screw-up’s – which have been many.

If you’re interested in having a further dialog on this topic and live in the Toronto area, join us on Wednesday, May 4th when we host our annual PowerRoundtable forum “Leadership Lessons They Don’t Teach in School”.  Limited to 15 attendees and 3 executive panelists, we’ll be keeping this conversation going.  Blog subscribers can register at our member rate.

For more on this topic, check out the #usguys #usblogs streams on Twitter this morning and follow our tweets at @ExecRoundtable.

Happy leading!


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