Can leadership be learned?

Yes it can!

We have the ability to develop leadership skills that can help us live a more fulfilling and meaningful life. While having a mentor or coach is helpful, with the right guidance and resources we can teach ourselves to become effective leaders in the area that matters most – leading our own lives.

Leadership involves taking the initiative to guide your life and activities toward achieving your vision, and in the process finding personal fulfilment and meaning. It involves transforming your vision and purpose into reality. Before we explore how to do this, ask yourself two questions.

Are you a leader of yourself? Are you leading your life or managing it? Leading involves taking your life to a new place and creating a new future. Managing is mostly about maintaining what is and making the most of it. Leadership is future focused. Managing is more present focused, although not exclusively. Inspiring leaders guide themselves effectively.

Five leadership principles

To help on your journey, here are five important leadership principles and related actions for making them real in your life:

1. Define yourself by what you are, your passion, and what you want to be.

  • Ground yourself in today’s realities while being future oriented – and incorporating your aspirations and dreams into who you are now.
  • Find and pursue your passion and the possibilities it generates.
  • Define yourself (and your organisation) by what you are, rather than what you are not.
  • Make (sometimes difficult) choices to concentrate energy on your primary objectives.
  • Balance belief in yourself with humility.
  • Live your values and demonstrate strength of character.

2. Invest in relationships and develop others.

  • Establish and build positive relationships – with others, including those closest to you, co-workers, customers/members, suppliers, other organisations, partners, and passers-by.
  • Foster teamwork and partnerships – and be a great partner and team player.
  • Surround yourself with great talent, then further develop and empower it.
  • Engage others and generate commitment.
  • Be magnanimous.
  • Build trust.
  • “Pay it forward”.
  • Nurture relationships – they are among your most valuable assets.

3. Put the best interests of others and the goal you are striving to achieve above your own personal needs.

  • Subordinate self-interest to the needs of others and the endeavour or cause.
  • Help others succeed and fulfil their dreams.
  • Coach for success. Offer positive and constructive feedback.
  • Build and extend trust.
  • Develop the next generation of leaders.
  • Honour others: Credit the contributions of others more than your own.

4. Role-model your vision.

  • As a leader, once you know your vision, make the process of achieving it – both in what you do and how you do it – mirror the desired outcome.
  • Model the values you espouse and encourage others to as well; behaviour change precedes attitude change.
  • Become a catalyst for your vision – so it is dynamic, builds momentum, becomes a robust part of the culture in which you live and/or work, and reinforces performance expectations.

5. Believe the “impossible” is possible.

  • Set goals. Break down big challenges into pieces and tackle one step at a time – keeping your objectives in mind.
  • Develop and implement a focused strategy.
  • Challenge conventional thinking and established paradigms.
  • Encourage and apply ingenuity to develop new and innovative ideas and solutions.
  • Take smart risks to achieve objectives – and to leapfrog ahead.
  • Persist.
  • Think positively – generate energy, enthusiasm, drive, and determination.
  • Have fun – it’s contagious!

Naturally, each of us will be stronger in some of these areas than others. You need not excel in all of them. By practising and developing skills for as many as possible you can become a better leader of your own life and, if you choose, a leader of others. By being a model and inspiration for others, you build trust, credibility and loyalty and in the process you create a gratifying life for yourself.

If you have other practices that have worked for you, we’d love to hear them!

With acknowledgement and many thanks to Steve Weitzenkorn. We have adapted this article from one appearing on his excellent and inspiring blog, Find, Fulfill, Flourish.