What It Takes To Be A Great Leader
Over the last year, I have seen a growing chorus of “be more human” in marketing and social media spheres. This is the necessary backlash to the abhorrent automation that is currently taking place. People, companies, and organizations who do this have concluded that social media marketing is like TV or radio marketing. The more you broadcast the message the more effective it becomes.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Blatant, in your face advertising on social media is a quick way to turn people off. Mute/Ignore/Unfriend/Unfollow/Block are all tools available to social media users to stem the flow of spam. Once this happens, that user becomes closed off to your messaging (forever). Not good.
Instead of that, the alternative is to be more human in your marketing. That means taking the time to talk to and interact with people. It also means investing in real relationships where people help each other to the benefit of both parties. I’m here to help with that. If you want to be a better, more human marketer – it starts with being a better leader. If you want to be a better leader, you have to be a better person. There is a definite continuum and you have to do the work at the very beginning to reap the rewards. Be a better leader and then be a better marketer and social media practitioner.
Seek Knowledge, Develop Wisdom, and Pass On Legacy
First, since I am such a stickler for word clarity, here are some definitions (pulled from Google):
- Knowledge – facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.
- Wisdom – the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.
The difference between these two ideas comes down to one simple word: application. Here is a humorous quote to help put that into context:
In other words, application is correctly using the information gathered – most likely to accomplish an objective or goal. Notice the other word choices as well: seek, develop, and pass. These are all action words. Leaders need to be proactive in the acquisition of knowledge, the successful usage of that knowledge and then reproducing that gained wisdom in their subordinates or other people within their purview. This is not a passive process because reactionary leaders are doomed to be failed leaders.
What It Takes To Be A Great Leader – Seek Knowledge
Seeking knowledge must “start with the why” (to quote Simon Sinek in his amazing TED talk). What is my motivation or purpose in seeking knowledge? In my life, I truly believe that I have a Biblical mandate to grow my knowledge base so I can be wiser in my daily interactions and subsequently I can pass along that wisdom to the next generation. Some might call it simply an inner sense of responsibility to self and others to be a lifelong learner. Either way, there is a recognition that knowledge is the first step in a logical progression toward wisdom and then legacy.
The underlying attitude is also important or else that knowledge will never be sought and it will not produce any value. Personally, I did not have the proper “teachable” attitude for a long time (It took a wise spiritual mentor to bring that to light for me). Frankly, it is a constant battle against the ego. A teachable attitude comes from a heart of humility. Great leaders understand they cannot know everything. However, they can strive to be diligent learners.
Let me quickly mention here that seeking knowledge does not necessarily equate to going back to school to get a degree, more degrees, or an advanced degree. Some leaders may have a formal continuing education requirement (teachers come to mind), but in this case, I am considering the more informal and self-directed avenues such as books, audiobooks, podcasts, videos, and webinars (to name a few). The import part is that knowledge seeking comes from an external source. Leaders cannot simply learn about a subject through introspection.
Here is an example. I have a very rudimentary knowledge of golf, but imagine someone who knows nothing about the sport. They might observe that in order to play they would need a stick to hit a little white ball into a hole some distance away. They might even be attentive enough to observe some of the rules and repeat some of the terminologies. However, someone with authority in golf would have to teach them about properly hitting the ball (stance, swing, technique, specific club, etc.) off the tee, putting, adjusting shots for weather and terrain, and much more.
As a former military member, I often think of concepts through a prism of tactical versus strategic. Don’t let this verbiage confuse the situation – it is simply the difference between small, daily tasks and the long-term or “big picture” goals. Knowledge seeking definitely falls into the category of tactical action. This action can take place anywhere – on the job, at home, or on the road (Zig Ziglar regularly espoused the benefit of automobile university). The import part is that this action happens and that it happens at regular intervals.
Leaders cultivate the daily habit of specifically setting aside time for reading/listening to books, podcasts, videos, or interactive webinars.
A favorite author of mine – Taylor Pearson – reads about 60 books a year. This is a number I have seen referenced by other high-level performers and achievers such as Fortune 500 CEOs. The benefit of such dedication to knowledge seeking is that it gives him a “competitive advantage”. I agree and have challenged myself to do the same this year. Now if you are not an avid reader, 60 books will be a monumental task (roughly one and a quarter books a week). What if you decided to read or listen to one book per month? What if you listened to one podcast each week? What if you engaged in one webinar every couple of months? It would grow your knowledge base, grow your leadership skills, and put you on the path to wisdom and a potential legacy.
What It Takes To Be A Great Leader – Develop Wisdom
I spent a lot of time on seeking knowledge because I believe that is the first step in a larger progression towards wisdom and legacy. Seeking knowledge is an actionable step that leaders can undertake right now. Wisdom, however, requires time. It is slowly built through the years based on real world experience, trial and error, other people’s mistakes, and one’s own mistakes. Not all wisdom has to come from the school of hard knocks. As mentioned above, I had a spiritual mentor who helped me see a facet of my personality that was stunting my growth. That was knowledge gained from an external source.
That knowledge, however, could not have transformed into wisdom without extensive and laborious internal work. I had that conversation with my mentor years ago and it left an indelible impression on my life. I took those words to heart and wrestled with them – testing their veracity and asking others close to me for feedback on the issue. At first, I was angry. Later, through much soul searching, I came to the conclusion that my “unteachable” spirit came from my own hubris.
It was a deeply humbling and spiritual time and I am glad to share it now that I am on the other side of it. None of that internal work would have been possible without times of quiet – meditation, prayer, self-reflection, and journaling/blogging. Now I understand as a self–proclaimed introvert that I am predisposed to times of solitude. I was even more fortunate that my scheduling between work and school at the time allowed me the necessary quiet time. However, I believe anyone can spend 5 minutes of their day (before going to sleep for instance) jotting down concepts or lessons that resonate within their core.
I hope that doesn’t scare away all the extroverts. My aim here is to introduce people to methods that have helped me gain understanding and insight in my journey. Here is a summary of the wisdom process:
Knowledge (Old or New)à Reinforced (Routine & Repetition)à Assimilated & Mastered à Wisdom
What It Takes To Be A Great Leader – Pass On Legacy
Once knowledge has been acquired and wisdom developed, it is time for the exciting part – passing on a legacy. Some might question the idea that this part is exciting, but I definitely can tell you firsthand that there is real joy in sharing with the next generation. Here are some common words and phrases that we hear in this regard:
- Mastermind groups
Whatever word is used and whatever form it takes the concept is fairly straightforward – using one’s own wisdom to benefit another person who may not be as far along on their own journey (professional, spiritual, emotional, etc.). I have been blessed in my life to occupy this role myself and also to have someone pouring their wisdom into me. The benefit (to both parties) is very real, but there is a catch – there has to be a relationship between the two parties. I believe some of the best legacy making happens within the home – parents who are selflessly helping kids to shape their own destinies in this world. That is an easy relationship to visualize when we speak of legacy.
However, our legacy can (and should) extend beyond blood relatives. There are colleagues, friends, neighbors, business contacts, and more who might gain from the kind of sage advice we can offer if we have diligently developed wisdom. So the question becomes: who in your network can benefit from your experience and wisdom? I’m willing to bet the answer is hiding in plain sight.
Since we are just coming back from the holiday break, I am reminded of the classic Christmas movie it’s A Wonderful Life. We never know the impact we have on another person’s life. Shouldn’t we all try to make it a positive and dramatic impact? That is legacy. How will we be remembered when we are gone? Many people talk about changing the world for the better. Few people do change it because they don’t know how and they don’t have a plan.
Define For Yourself, What It Takes To Be A Great Leader
Part of my life’s mission is to help people become great leaders who have a long-term perspective. My challenge to you is to elevate your efforts in becoming a great leader. If you haven’t been seeking knowledge – start now. Start small, but start now. I gave you several actionable steps. If you need to develop the wisdom – spend more time doing that hard internal work. Again, just begin with 5 minutes a day. If you have the wisdom – share it with someone. You will benefit from it as much as the other person. I believe there are leaders everywhere who desperately want to live lives of significance. You can do it – just remember knowledge, wisdom, and legacy.