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5 leadership lessons I've learned

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KP Persaud, guest columnist

What makes someone an effective leader? This is a subject I’ve been studying for over 30 years.

I first became interested in leadership early in my career, while working as a manager at a large company. I found myself in a position where my job performance depended on how well I led others.

I hadn’t been taught leadership in school, so I started learning everything I could about the subject — and then applying it on the job.

It paid off, as I was able to lead my team with great results. After seeing the benefits, I continued studying leadership over the course of my career.

Here are some key lessons about leadership I’ve formulated through the years.

DEFINE WHAT LEADERSHIP MEANS

What does the term “leadership” mean? Ask a hundred people, and you’ll get a hundred different answers.

You might hear leadership defined as the ability to inspire others to take action. But what does that mean in a real-world context?

If you don’t come up with a clear definition of leadership, the end result will be poor leadership. Failing to define leadership means you haven’t developed any standards to which you can aspire. There are no standards to judge your performance either.

Draft a clear definition of leadership. In your definition, incorporate the vision, mission, and values of the individual and/or organization.

The vision sets the standard of excellence. The mission outlines the path to get there. The values define how to behave while on the journey.

LEADERSHIP IS LEARNED

In my opinion, there is no such thing as a “natural born leader.” There are certain personality traits that can help a person lead others more effectively; however, leadership is not about personality traits alone.

I believe leadership is learned. One way we learn leadership is by observing others. Good leaders can set an example of what to do, while poor leaders demonstrate what not to do.

We also learn leadership through practice and experience. Using trial and error, we can understand what works well and what doesn’t.

There are things you can do to speed up your development as a leader. For one, you can study leadership through books, courses, and other resources. You can also use formal assessments that will give you feedback on your strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

LEADERSHIP IS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS

Unless you’re talking about personal leadership (i.e., leading the self), leadership always involves at least two people: one who is doing the leading and the other who is being led.

That means personal relationships are at the heart of any leadership scenario. If the relationship is built on trust and confidence, a person will be more receptive to being led.

For others to have trust and confidence in you, focus on being transparent, authentic, and having excellent communication skills.

LEADERSHIP REQUIRES DISCIPLINE AND CONSISTENCY

Who do you consider to be a great leader? It might be a civil rights pioneer, a CEO, a parent, a teacher, or a boss.

We don’t consider someone to be an effective leader based on one or two actions they have taken. Rather, it’s about the hundreds, if not thousands, of actions they have taken regularly and with consistency.

Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint. Think about your daily actions and interactions.

Have the discipline to act and communicate in ways that are always aligned with your leadership goals.

LEADERSHIP IS A JOURNEY, NOT A DESTINATION

There are no athletes, artists, or musicians who claim to have reached perfection at what they do. In fact, individuals at the top of any field are usually the ones who spend the most the most time honing their skills.

It’s the same with leadership. Effective leadership does not come from reading a single book or attending a training seminar. That would be like practicing an instrument for a month and then stopping. You might learn how to play a song or two, but that’s as far as you’ll ever get.

Effective leadership is a matter of continuous and ongoing improvement. This requires an intentional effort to learn, apply what you learn, and to obtain feedback on your progress.

CONCLUSION

Leadership can be a complex subject, but it doesn’t have to be. The lessons discussed above are designed to be simple yet cover as much ground as possible in the area of leadership development. I hope you find them useful.

• KP Persaud, of Amana, is a business coach, executive coach, and trainer. Comments: kp@kppersaud.com

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