True leadership is necessarily a work in progress – there is always something more you can learn.
Be the leader
What are great leaders made of? Is it in your genes or can you be trained? It seems that nearly everyone has advice to offer on leadership. There are literally thousands of gurus, coaches, books and seminars poised to guide uncertain wannabe leaders through the pitfalls of ego, self-doubt, and unruly followers.
I don’t pretend to be one of those experts. In fact I think that leadership is a deeply individual thing and what works for one person will probably not work for another. My own leadership skills are a work in progress of trial and error, and probably always will be.
The one thing I have seen proven out is that good leaders lead by example. This might sound trite, but if you are in a leadership position think across the depth and breadth of your daily actions – how many of those actions would you like to see your team emulate?
In talking about leadership I’m not just talking to aspiring CEOs out there – this is for all of you. We all have the capacity to be leaders, we all have to carry the flag at some point in our lives. Whether you are a CEO, sales manager, captain of your sports team or den mother, the trick is to find out what works best for you.
One of the things that helped me enormously is venturing outside the bestseller list. Beyond the latest rock star CEO autobiography, cover article for business journals or fad tome there are some great stories about leadership. Here are just a few of the books from my library that have helped me better understand the stuff leaders are made of. (I have provided amazon.com links, but I am sure you will find any of them at your local bookstore or local library.)
Leadership and the New Science – Margaret Wheatley
Exploring what the scientific principles of quantum physics, chemistry and biology have to tell us about leadership and organisations – which, it turns out, is quite a bit!
John Adams – David McCullough
The story of an ordinary man who came to greatness as the second president of the United States, and one of the most distinguished of a generation of revolutionary leaders.
Profiles in Courage – John F. Kennedy
Pulitzer Prize winning novel about eight historical senators written while Kennedy was still a freshman senator himself. This book “illustrates … when they stood alone against tremendous political and social pressure for what they felt was right”.
New Atlantis – Francis Bacon
One of Bacon’s most mysterious works where he writes about how the great merchant traders and capitalists of the Renaissance dedicated their personal wealth and reputations to travel beyond the edge of the maps.
Personal History – Katherine Graham
Katherine Graham didn’t want to be a leader, but she was left little choice after the suicide of her husband and went on to lead the Washington Post through Watergate to be one of the most storied news organisations of the world.
The Art of Living – Epectetus
From the book: “Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”
In Love and War – Jim and Sybil Stockdale
Admiral Jim Stockdale was the longest serving POW in Vietnam. This is the story of that time, told by both himself and his wife, and is an inspiring story of not only devotion but what it takes to survive the most brutal realities.
Let My People Go Surfing – Yvon Chouinard
Chouinard is an original and the founder of world-renown sports apparel company Patagonia. His unique brand of leadership is just one of many lessons I found in this book.
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