The Education Of A Leader

Recent events have called into question the qualifications for leaders. Is a college degree necessary? Business experience? Military Service? Do we want to consider requiring a basic knowledge of human anatomy and physiology?

If we stacked every book ever written about leadership one atop the other, we’d have an impressive stack of opinion and myth. Sure, there are factual accounts of successful leadership strategies and proven methodologies. It’s important to note that while leadership qualities outnumber stars in the sky, what truly makes an effective leader has less to do with a person’s qualifications and more to do with their willingness to listen and their ability to respond appropriately to what they hear.

Lesson One: When you don’t know what you’re talking about, shut up.

Leadership style is a personal preference based on knowledge and experience. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to stick to the subject of admirable leaders and not infamous ones. History is loaded with examples of both and we are all aware of who falls into which category. Some leaders prefer to collaborate, some to delegate. Again, I’m not going to acknowledge dicks dictators due to my lack of interest in narcissists.

Lesson Two: Don’t piss off smart women; they just might tell the truth about you.

Situational leadership means exactly what it sounds like; a leadership style that adjusts depending on the situation. Take parenting for example, the most fundamental leadership role, most situations are great for collaboration. Like choosing a family pet. Some are best delegated; like cleaning up dog poop.

Lesson Three: No job is unimportant, but show up early so you get first choice.

In the larger arena of a corporate environment, good leaders know how to surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are. This requires a great degree of self-awareness as well as trust. Two things corporate leaders are famous for, right? If these qualities have been cultivated throughout a person’s life, say by thoughtful parents and teachers, it stands to reason that they will be better equipped to assess risks and resolve conflicts before they cause a full-blown economic meltdown.

Of course, there are many contributing factors to consider when it comes to civic leadership. Economic indicators, weather patterns, public health and safety, social convention, Twitter, unflattering stereotypes, old football injuries, erectile dysfu, hemorrhoids, vampires, fear monger support group scheduling conflicts.

Some would say that building relationships is the hallmark of leadership. It is important to recognize the efforts of everyone and give credit where credit is due. Equally as important, is having the confidence to say, “NO.” Grasping the nuances of the English language can also come in handy.

Lesson Four: Know your limitations or prepare to become a punchline.

Taking responsibility for one’s decisions is a sign of a good leader. Leadership is instinctual; it is also learned. Leadership is personal, and yet transparent.  Leaders sometimes fail, and when they do, they know that accountability is part of the package. I believe that just as soon I as we think we’ve come full circle on the education of a leader, we discover there is still much to learn, and to that end we should keep working toward the return of elevated public discourse. We deserve nothing less from each other.

Lesson Five: Accept no substitutes.

14 thoughts on “The Education Of A Leader

  1. Much like politics, I wonder if the process of becoming and staying a leader is simply too corrupting. We always hear stories of really good, talented people losing their moral compass either on their way to the top or in an effort to stay there. I would think that the environment where a person takes on a leadership role is critical as well. You can be a strong leader, but if you walk into a mess that took years to create, you are not coming out of the mess unscathed. Nobody wants to be in charge of a transitional government or a company going through a merger. You’re toast, once the dust has settled.

    1. Absolutely true. l couldn’t agree more that the environment where a person takes on a leadership role is critical. That’s why I think student leader positions are so important. Someone with natural abilities – confidence, poise, etc. should be encouraged to hone those skills to prepare for difficult roles. Character is whole other issue.
      You’re right about corruption. Career politicians aren’t necessarily leaders and I think it’s great that our system of government is structured so that we have the opportunity to choose new leaders. Now, if we just had a better selection from which to choose… 🙂

  2. You make some interesting points about leadership. I’m grateful that my daughters are Girl Scouts, where they learn some of the things you mention, like responding appropriately to their environment. Interesting fact: virtually every female astronaut who has flown in space was a Girl Scout!

    1. That is great that your daughters are Girl Scouts! Scouting provides exceptional learning opportunities. It empowers young people to make a difference in ways they may not otherwise believe they could and gives them a safe environment in which to test their skills and learn. 🙂 Thanks for sharing that!

  3. Interesting points. I like the one about smart women…of course. Then again, the men who usually make that mistake usually operate under the assumption that women aren’t smart. That’s the root of their problem.

  4. “what truly makes an effective leader has less to do with a person’s qualifications and more to do with their willingness to listen and their ability to respond appropriately to what they hear” – there it is in a nutshell. I lead a department and find myself listening to every side of every issue to try and build consensus. Some days it’s exhausting, some days exhilarating. Now if I could just delegate someone to clean up the dog poop I could take the weekend off:)

  5. I’m re-re-reading Charles Pierce’s Idiot America. He brings up the poll they did indicating that Bush43 was the president people would most like to have a beer with. He goes on to ask the reader to think of all the people you’ve had beer with… are they the sort of person you want with a finger on the button?

    Your post got me pondering if corporate leadership is actually a quality I want in a political leader. It’s a new thought to ponder, so I don’t have an answer. My gut seems to be leaning away from the idea, but that could have a lot to do with my general distaste for corporate America.

    1. Not being familiar with the book you mention, I can say only that I don’t accept the premise of the question. Most of the people I’ve had a beer with I wouldn’t want their finger on so much as my beer mug. I don’t see what that has to do with leadership.
      For me, leadership is a matter of matching a number of qualities. Any old leader can conquer, given enough firepower and willing participants. Hell, our history books are filled with stories to prove that. A good leader inspires us to do better. A great one expects nothing less. That is the person who would have my vote.

      1. Heh, yeah! That was his point… ‘guy I’d like to have a beer with’ is a pretty lousy qualification for a leader! Which leads to his real point which is, as you suggest, it’s a really stupid question in the first place. He was talking more about the media and how useless it’s become more than the people polled!

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