There has been a debate for years about what makes a leader. This debate has resulted in two schools of thought. One school proposes that leaders are made from a select few unique of individuals, born with a rare set of leadership abilities – leaders are born. The other school of thought proposes that leaders are made, that we learn, grow and develop into leaders – leaders are made.
Many are challenged when asked to define leadership. Whilst challenging, it’s critical you create your own definition.
When lacking a clear definition of leadership it’s impossible to develop the skills necessary to drive superior results. Without a practical definition you have no idea what good leadership looks like. A lack of clarity makes the development of leaders a hit and miss affair, as it’s impossible to know what skills drive superior results.
You cannot become a great leader without self-awareness.
Self-awareness is the ability to accept and proactively use feedback about oneself to improve your leadership skills.
Self-aware leaders are able to respond appropriately to people and situations. Successful leadership involves taking people on a journey into an uncertain future. As such, leadership is not something that can be executed by following a step-by-step recipe. Instead leadership demands you experiment, reflect, learn and adapt to a constantly changing environment.
”In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time — literally — substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.” – Peter Drucker, “Managing Knowledge Means Managing Oneself”, Leader to Leader, No. 16 Spring 2000
In Ancient Greece the philosopher Socrates famously stated at his trial, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. This quote from Socrates comes from Plato’s Apology and is his recollection of the speech Socrates gave to defend himself at his trial. Socrates was accused of not recognising the gods and corrupting the youth of Athens by encouraging them to challenge accepted beliefs and to think for themselves.
Successful leaders know that they must get out of their comfort zone to succeed. Great leaders from history are those who have spent a large amount of their time outside their comfort zone.
Leaders who take risks and step into their learning zone are those that succeed. It’s only when you can give up what’s safe and familiar that you create opportunities and develop new capabilities. As you do, you expand your influence and gain the skills required to take on bigger and bigger challenges.
It has long been known that successful leaders are readers. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway’s vice chairman, credit their success to a significant amount of reading.
Warren Buffett says, “I just sit in my office and read all day.”
What does that mean? He estimates that he spends 80 percent of his working day reading and thinking.
“You could hardly find a partnership in which two people settle on reading more hours of the day than in ours,” Charlie Munger commented.
When asked how to get smarter, Buffett once held up stacks of paper and said he “read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”
All of us can build our knowledge but most of us won’t put in the effort.” – Shane Parrish, The Warren Buffett formula: How you can get smarter
What is leadership?
A Google search on the term leadership yields about 134,000,000 hits! An Amazon search yields over 112,000 results for books on the subject. Wow!
I have been writing this blog for some time and whilst I have explored how others have defined leadership. I have not taken time to define what I mean by leadership. The reason for my tardiness is that I have found defining leadership to be quite a daunting task. I have even asked myself if it’s possible to create a leadership definition? Despite these nagging concerns and against my better judgement I’m giving it a shot.