Leaders are readers, writers, thinkers, and doers, who are constantly sharpening their mental saw. Formal education is just the jumping-off point. Lifelong learning is your personal responsibility. Take the time to develop yourself—attend conferences, night classes, retreats, and/or coaching sessions. Invest more in yourself than in your stuff. Be greedy about acquiring intellectual capital for your dream. Don’t fear failure or the thought of looking foolish. Let go of your ego, live with childlike curiosity, and remember that the learning process is an imperfect one: Attempt. Fail. Adapt. Repeat.
“In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”
- Max De Pree, Author of Leadership is an Art
Seek. Feedback. Regularly. Leaders crosscheck, gut-check, and reflect. Reflect every night (ten minutes), every week (one hour), every month (half day), and every year (full weekend). Ask yourself, “What’s working and why? What needs to be changed and how?” Regular reflection is a powerful feedback tool; so is asking others for their thoughts. Use a 360-degree feedback survey to collect diverse perspectives. But be careful: the higher you climb in an organization, the less likely you’ll get honest responses. So when do you find truth-tellers, keep them close.
“You must constantly ask yourself these questions: Who am I around? What are they doing to me? What have they got me reading? What have they got me saying? Where do they have me going? What do they have me thinking? And most important, what do they have me becoming? Then ask yourself the big question: Is that okay? Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.”
- Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur and motivational speaker
We all have weak moments. You will find yourself in a slump at some point, stuck in the quicksand of being bored, tired, and/or visionless. First, don’t dump your burdens on someone else. Reach out for help, but not to lay blame for your bad day. Second, ask yourself, “Have I been here before?” If so, how did you get out? History has a funny way of repeating itself. Learn from it and leverage it. Third, remember that with growth comes growing pains. Stay focused on the endgame. Don’t give up when you’re down or allow a passing mood to dictate key decisions. Finally, when all else fails, at least rock bottom is solid ground to stand on.
“Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.”
- Proverbs 13:12
You are the sum of your systems. Eighty percent of what you do daily is what you have programed yourself to do. These daily habits can either make you or break you. Create great daily habits—great systems—that unconsciously draw you closer to your goals. Systematize success. Save more money with automatic IRA withdrawals from your paycheck. Get fit faster by stocking the fridge with fruit rather than fast food. Use automatic lock-out settings to spend more time with real friends rather than Facebook friends. Stack the deck and win before you begin. Your environment shapes you, but you shape your environment.
“If you really want the key to success, start by doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing.”
- Brad Szollose, Millennial leadership expert
Leadership is a blessing, but also a burden. The clock doesn’t stop for leaders—dreams don’t take timeouts and caring for your team isn’t a 9-5 position. Every leader has his or her limits. Know yours, and respect them. You won’t be useful if you’re constantly sick, stressed, and sidelined. Self-care is self-leadership. Designate an hour of your day for fitness—and fight for it. Reserve one day each week for you and your loved ones—they deserve it. And take a vacation—without your cell phone. If you’ve done your job right, your team can operate without you for at least a little while.
“Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.”
- Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States
You cannot—and should not—do it all. You will underperform, burnout, and become unhappy. Take a sharpie to your life by cancelling meetings that don’t have specific objectives and maintaining a low information diet (sometimes selective ignorance is best). Most importantly, say NO. Your no’s give your yes’s power. Being too busy is simply a lack of focus, self-discipline, and delegation. Remember, quantity will affect quality. Divided attention divides results. Of course, life has its phases and at times you will drift precariously close to the edge of being overwhelmed. That’s fine. Just don’t live there.
“It’s not so much how busy you are, but how you are busy. . .the bee is praised, the mosquito is swatted.”
- Mary O’Connor, American writer and essayist
Hard work is worthless without a vision to guide it. First, choose one goal. Not ten goals, not three goals. One goal. Next, give your life a face lift: Redesign your environment to encourage goal-attainment, avoid activities unaligned with your goal, and create a team that supports your vision and can make meaningful contributions to its manifestation. Finally, identify three action steps that will most effectively bring your goal to fruition—then do them. What does all of this have in common? Alignment. Each piece works with and for all of the others. Stop fighting against yourself and start living a life of alignment.
“I can give you a six-word formula for success: Think things through, then follow through.”
- Edward Rickenbacker, Decorated World War I fighter pilot
Before you lead others, you must lead yourself. Before you lead yourself, you must know yourself. Do the hard work of introspection and self-reflection. How are you hardwired? What are your needs and core behaviors? How do you respond to stress? What environments bring out the best and worst in you? Take personality tests, strengths tests, and leadership-style tests. Constantly collect feedback from those around you. Then aim to operate from within your strengths and your ideal environment as often as possible, while encouraging others to do the same. Remember, leading others begins by leading yourself.
“Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”
- Tao Te Ching
Don’t fear weakness. We all have at least one. Why? Because everything in life is a trade. We trade learning X for learning Y, practicing X for practicing Y, perfecting X for perfecting Y. The key question is this: What is the vision for the trades you’re making? Being called well rounded is not necessarily a commendation, but rather an indication of making multidirectional trades. Ask yourself: Would you rather be the best at one thing or average at everything? Teams—not necessarily individuals—should be well rounded. Teams’ diverse strengths negate individual weaknesses, so staff your weaknesses and trust the strengths of your teammates.
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States
Leaders don’t push, they pull. They don’t push others from behind with rules, micromanaging, and fear mongering. They pull others forward with creative ideas, positive words of encouragement, and a vision for a better future. Leaders coach rather than control, delegate rather than dictate, and inspire rather than motivate. Motivation, though important, is short-lived. Inspiration is enduring and empowering—people believing in themselves. Act as an assistant rather than as an authoritative supervisor, and you will bring out the best in each of your teammates as well as your team.
“The great leaders are like the best conductors—they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.”
- Blaine Lee, The Power Principle