Develop Leadership Qualities
NEADERS NEVER stop growing and developing. As a matter of fact, in one of the most extensive studies of leaders done in the last couple of decades, what we have found is that true leaders have the capacity to grow and develop and keep themselves from falling into a comfort zone. They are lifelong students.
Read and Study
A key to developing leadership qualities is to read, study, and take courses. All leaders are readers. Even though they are swamped with work, they never stop taking in new information. They never stop reading business books and magazines, attending conferences, getting into discussions, and learning what is going on.
George Washington was born into a middle-class family with few advantages and eventually became the commander of the United States military forces and the first president of the United States. During the turbulent times of the founding of our nation, Washington was known for always being gracious and correct in his manner and behavior. What few people realize is that a book he read when he was a teenager helped guide his behavior throughout his long and storied life. The book was called The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Washington wrote down the book's 110 rules in a personal notebook and would keep it with him for the rest of his life.
Many leaders read biographies and autobiographies of other leaders because they are looking for role models to serve as examples for their lives. David McClelland of Harvard University researched the effect of role models on shaping the character and the personality of young people. As he explained in his book The Achieving Society, the men and women that society holds up as role models during a person's youth will have a major impact on the character of that person for the rest of his or her life. Those who become great leaders, however, go beyond the current role models of society; they seek out the best leaders from history through reading and study.
Work on the Qualities You're Missing
People will be born with certain leadership qualities but missing others. Most great leaders became great because they identified the leadership qualities that they were missing and then deliberately set out to acquire those skills.
Benjamin Franklin, another one of our founding fathers, also worked hard at developing the qualities he thought he needed as a leader. Franklin believed that he was too rough around the edges, too argumentative and ill-mannered, to be successful. So he deliberately set out to change his personality. He sat down and wrote a list of thirteen virtues that he believed he needed to possess. And then he began learning to act according to those virtues. Every week he would choose one virtue to focus on, such as tolerance or tranquility. But Franklin knew, as did Washington, that leadership qualities are not acquired in just a week. Franklin continued to study the virtues, eventually focusing on a specific virtue for a period of two weeks, then three weeks, then a month. The once rough and off-putting Franklin became one of the most influential diplomats working on behalf of our fledgling nation. His diplomacy in Paris was vital in acquiring the international allies the colonists would need to defeat a nation as powerful as England. And it all began with sitting down and working on thirteen virtues.
As you are working to make yourself better, remember these three rules:
■ It doesn't matter where you came from. It only matters where you are going. Don't worry about any past opportunities that you may have missed or any mistakes you may have made because of a weakness. That is all past. It is the future that counts. Just because you haven't been a leader before doesn't mean you can't become one.
■ If you want your life to get better, you have to get better. That's what this chapter is about. If you want to be a leader, then you need to develop your leadership qualities.
■ You can learn anything that you want to learn. You can become anything you want to become. Leaders such as Benjamin Franklin knew what they wanted to be and then set about making it happen.
Become a Better Leader
Leaders are always looking to improve themselves. In four basic steps, you can improve your leadership skills and qualities:
1. Do more of certain things. Do more of those things that are of greater value to you and more important to achieving your results as a leader.
2. Do less of certain things. At the same time, you must deliberately decide to reduce the amount of time you spend on certain activities that impede your success as a leader.
3. Start to do those things you aren't doing that you need to be doing. What are the skills, competencies, or knowledge that you need in order to succeed as a leader? Identify them, and then either acquire them or learn them
4. Stop doing certain things altogether. There may be activities that are no longer relevant to your goals as a leader. Step back and evaluate all your activities from the perspective of what you are trying to achieve. You may find that what was once important is no longer important and should no longer take up your time.