5 Lessons in Leadership

During an interview many years ago, I was asked to “define leadership.” After some brief but careful thought, I responded.

“Leading by example. Being someone who others want to follow.”

Not the most complete answer, but definitely something I whole-heartedly believe to this day. The principles and attributes shared by great leaders are the common thread that encourage others to follow them.

This May, a group of Brown Bag colleagues and I attended the 2015 Leadercast Live event, themed “The Brave Ones.” Coincidentally, the Leadercast mission is “to inspire and equip Leaders Worth Following” (hmm, sounds familiar!). Like Mary Adams stated in her blog, and not coincidentally, I left Leadercast with a renewed and inspired commitment to my own leadership development.

Having attended Leadercast two years now, I have also gained perspective on what commitment to leadership means. “Leaders are made, not born,” as Rudy Giuliani proclaimed. So what are the principles and attributes that make great leaders?

Amid the “tweetable moments,” “leadership pillars,” and “game changers” of Leadercast, these five recurring themes rose to the top for me:

  1. Great Leaders Face Fear Head-on

Using fear as motivation gives fear a purpose. It’s the elephant in the room, whether a big presentation or a colleague that you’re not seeing eye to eye with. Commander Rorke Denver said it best: “The response to fear…is to face it. Grab it by the neck and say I’m going to advance when everything in me tells me to recede.” Bravery is doing something despite your fear. Face it and you will be in control.

  1. Great Leaders are Always Prepared

“Prepare relentlessly,” advised Rudy Giuliani, and you will be ready for anything. Peyton Manning described his warm-up process that includes having tackling dummies thrown at him as a practice in inoculation. Through this, he has learned “to thrive in uncomfortable situations” because they have become commonplace.

  1. Great Leaders Orchestrate and Conduct

A conductor directs the musicians, Bill and Giuliana Rancic advised, so that they may play together in harmony. In the same way, leaders coordinate so that their team can work in harmony. Aja Brown, Mayor of Compton, had another great point: “If you are doing something you can fix or complete yourself, you aren’t walking in leadership.” Leadership is not a solo act.

  1. Great Leaders are Trusted

If “trust is the ultimate human currency,” as Bill McDermott of SAP said, every great leader had better be rich with trust. Manning added that leaders must “find a way to instill trust in others that you can impact outcomes.” Capitalize on trust-building opportunities and also be aware of others that threaten or fracture that trust.

  1. Great Leadership is Not Static

Always be willing to learn and grow in your leadership, and be willing to make changes. While discussing the turnaround of Pixar under his stewardship, Ed Catmull made a powerful observation:

“It’s always easy to state values and agree. The hard part is acknowledging why you don’t live up to them.”

In other words, leadership means more than agreeing with a philosophy – attending an event like Leadercast and nodding in agreement is only the start. It’s more than tweeting out nuggets of wisdom or writing a blog entry like this one. Committing ourselves to the lessons we learned and regularly evaluating our progress, where we’ve fallen short, and making broad adjustments (“Spin the Dials,” as Commander Rorke would say) will be the ultimate measure of our ongoing commitment to truly great leadership. It’s what you do after Leadercast that matters.

See you at Leadercast 2016 – “Architects of Tomorrow!”

Did you attend Leadercast this year or previously? What leadership lessons do you think belong on this list?”