6 Easy Steps to Great Leadership - Common Sense Living Newsletter
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6 Easy Steps to Great Leadership

Jun 30, 2015

6 Easy Steps to Great Leadership 

As you know, every so often we try to give you a break from reading our letters, by making a voice recording (or podcast). Today, I have done just that. Today's topic is just so important in all our lives, in every aspect and at every stage in our lives. Leadership is one of those things we are all trying to learn about, to emulate and bring within ourselves.

To hear more about traveling down the path to leadership please click on my podcast below...

Listen here

Audio Transcript:

I know we usually try to give you easy practical tips and clips to make your life better... to motivate you, charge you up, get you out there doing your best.

But there are some things that simply can't be simplified. They take time, and experience, and wisdom and a lifetime of struggle to grasp.

Leadership is one of those things. I'm sorry, but I lied. I do not think there are any 'easy' steps to leadership, and doing 6 things won't make you a great leader. It is not like going on a diet - if you cut out x number of calories a day you will lose y number of kilos a month. It just doesn't work like that.

Leadership is messy. You have to get your hands dirty and suffer mild schizophrenia - you find yourself swinging between pride and shame, confidence and diffidence...

You have to be harsh when you don't want to, and nice when you don't want to. You have to say things that don't make sense, and explain yourself to everyone. You have to work like a dog, be willing to do things others can't or won't, invite chaos into your life, and take responsibility when everything goes down the drain.

That, unfortunately, is leadership. It's a lifelong struggle. But here's the good news. We all have it in us to take on that struggle.

And the more we struggle, the more our leadership muscles develop.

So if you are struggling in your leadership position - whether in life or at work, whether in a small department or in a large company, this letter is for you.

The labourer who struggles with these steps can rise to become a minister. A college dropout who struggles with them can become a leader of industry.

But this letter only applies to you if you can deal with messy. If you can follow your gut. And if you can thicken your skin. Because these ideas on leadership - I'm sorry to report - are not easy. So let me rename this letter, let's call it...

6 Painfully Messy Steps to Great Leadership

Step 1: You Won't Fit In, So Get Ready to Go It Alone

It's lonely at the top, they say. It's also lonely along the way. On the long, winding, narrow, path to the top, sometimes you have a team of loyalists, you will have followers, disciples and supporters. But often you will also have haters, and saboteurs trying to trip you up. And at the end of the day you will simply have no one.

In a painting of a lonely wanderer on a mountain, the great German painter Caspar David Friedrich depicts a lone figure gazing upon a vast and confusing world. That is the worldview of a leader. Like him, you must be ready to travel a lonely path that is yours and yours alone. 

If you are extraordinarily lucky you will find a Charlie Munger to your Warren Buffett. Everyone else must forge ahead alone. Strengthen yourself from within, for it is within you that true strength lies.

"Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog" by Caspar David Friedrich

Step 2: You Will Be Seen As Foolish, and Must Do Foolish Things

To be a leader you have to think differently, march to a different tune. If you do so you will be surrounded by two kinds of people: yes-men and naysayers. Both are dangerous. Yes-men will make you feel supported, and confident to go ahead with your ground-breaking ideas, but can also over-inflate your ego leading you down a wrong path. Naysayers will question your idea and make sure you are not doing something irreparably stupid, but sometimes they might deter you from your great, foolish idea.  We all know the stupid ideas, the ones that no one supports are sometimes the ones that disrupt the norms and change the world. 

Steve Jobs was thrown out of a company he started for what people thought were foolish ideas. Now, his foolish idea rides in everyone's pocket, and he himself tells us all to go out there and 'be foolish'. As a leader, you always want to be perceived as smart, but often you will have to do stupid things. It might make you uncomfortable. No it will make you uncomfortable. And that's the price you pay.

Step 3: You Will Feel Lost, But You Must Find a Way Forward

You will hit a wall sometimes, when the answer simply doesn't come to you, when a decision seems too tough to make. You won't know if you are doing the right thing, if you messed up a big decision, if you've put your organization, or your life, in jeopardy. Sometimes you will be lost but you have to learn that that is okay. It is often while wandering down an unknown path that you discover something new and amazing.

Step 4: You Will Disappoint, and Must Learn to Live With Hate

Sometimes you will downright fail. And those who put their faith in you will get hurt. Worse, those who put their money with you will get hurt. You might be disliked, judged harshly, even hated. Love and hate are two sides of a coin after all. What is that odd thing some people like to say, 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter?' Some will hate you, some will love you. Can you deal with the heartburn that comes with being loathed?

Step 5: You Will Feel Betrayed, but Must Continue to Trust

You will also be disappointed in others. People you trusted, people you hired, people you mentored will turn around and prove themselves unworthy, or disloyal and it will be annoying. It is so frustrating to invest in someone and then find that they were not worth your time, or worse, they turn against you.

Let's go back to the Steve Jobs example. He built a company, nurtured partnerships and brought people together. What did they do? They pushed him out. How betrayed must he have felt?

But the truth is, people don't always behave the way you want them to - and nor should they! No one was put here on earth to be your puppet, but you know what, some people were put here for you to connect with, to team up with and do great things - you just have to keep building your great team, finding your perfect partner, trusting people till you find the ones that become the team that pushes you to the top.

Step 6: You Will Face Injustice, and You Must Stare It in the Face Until You Triumph

What if you had to spend over two decades in prison to become one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen? On the road to a Nobel Peace Prize, Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen, did just that. That is, of course, a very extreme example. But the truth is, you are bound to face unfairness. You could do the best job possible, give your heart and soul to a cause, and still end up nowhere.

Because it's not easy. It takes courage to be a leader, it takes perseverance and patience, kindness and confidence. And it takes time and wisdom. You have these in you, you just need to gear up and buckle in for your ride to the top, because although difficult, and messy, this is one ride worth going on.

As Nelson Mandela said...

'It always seems impossible until it's done.'


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