Experience teaches nothing, but evaluated experience teaches everything ~ John C. Maxwell
This is my reflection on the last ten years, although to be true to my experience some lessons trace back from the high school days.
1. You are never ready
My grandfather used to say, “Nobody in the family can understand what the head of the house bears for the family unless they are in his shoes.” The same applies to leadership. No matter how much close you are to a leader or how much you share the burden with him, you are never ready. Times change, the challenges are new. You change too. This is a good thing because you realize you don’t deserve it, so you start with humility. You will need it.
2. Admit your shortcomings.
Self-awareness and personal development is a steady practice for me. Lately, however, I have found myself in the self-examination mode more and more often. Admitting your weaknesses is liberating and, at the same time, it makes you less vulnerable to criticism. It is a growing experience. Also, it helps you connect with people. People admire your gifts, but they connect with you in your weakness. I hope you will not remain in the diagnosed phase but will do something about it.
3. Act out of obedience, not feelings.
Leadership is stressful at times. Depending on the area of your leadership, stress may be a reality most of the time. The tension between dealing with your emotions and making the right decision will be a constant struggle. The value system of the leader is very important. I am learning to co-exist with hurt feelings in order to pay the benefit of the greater good.
4. Leaders are rare; most people are counselors and managers.
There are many theories that try to deal with the difference between a leader and a manager. My radical approach is: “A leader is a person worth dying for.” I would always put integrity before competency.
5. You don`t decide on people’s lives; they decide for themselves.
This sounds counterintuitive, as leaders lead people. What I mean is that no matter how great the leader’s influence on people’s lives, followers decide for themselves. They do have a choice. You don’t have the final word in their lives. This is comforting but at the same time it can be taken as abusive. There’s a fine line between caring, manipulating, or even controlling people entrusted to you. The alignment the leader brings toward the vision and mission might be resisted or misread, because the perception is that you are in the business of “running” people’s dreams. What you’re actually doing is helping them find their passion and dream.
6. You don`t know what you don`t know
This is not a code word. Often times you might sincerely be blinded and missing something that could either hinder or help your leadership. For example, when I ask other leaders what they think their blind spot is, some say: ”This is a trick question because if it is a blind spot you don’t see it and, as a result, you don`t know on your own what you cannot see.” This should not discourage you. What you should do, is to make the decision to allow trusted friends to help you in that area.
7. The hardest person to lead is you
I didn’t believe this at first. However, the greater influence you have, the more you need to deal with your ego. Rene Brown said it better – you need to check your ego at the door. Another question I have started to ask myself lately is, “Would I follow me?”
8. Your family and inner circle pay a price
They are the first to experience the real you, the one behind the scenes. They have to bear your bursts of anger and stress and your weak sides. At the same time, they have to be the first to support and cheer for you. They will have your presence, but not always the best of you.
9. When you change roles, you start over
In his book “Five levels of leadership”, John Maxwell makes the point that each time you change roles you start with the position of leadership. You just have a title, you need to work with relationships, leading people to results, and developing them. Leading a small group of people where I have multiple connections with the people I serve, I took some steps for granted. I did learn the lesson, though with some pain. It’s the same as in soccer – if you change your position in the field, the way you passed the ball or the person you passed it to needs to be adjusted. The goal is the same, though the way you play changes. You need to reposition yourself in the new environment.
10. You need God more than ever
My context of leadership is that of a faith-based organization. I could have named the tenth lesson “God is your best friend”. My example in life is Jesus of Nazareth, and this gives more hope and perspective for the long run, more than any other earthy relationship.