If the only life you’re focused on improving is your own, then you are probably missing the point on what it takes to be a true leader. True leaders don’t just motivate others, they inspire and empower them to become the next generation of leaders.
From managing conflict to discouraging disingenuous compliance, to gaining genuine commitment, there is no doubt that a true leader will always risk vitriol and unpopularity by telling people what they need to hear rather than seek ego soothing admiration by telling them what they want to hear.
Effective leaders understand the importance of asking “why” and “how” before deciding (sans emotion clouded judgments or reasoning), as they are mindful that trying to make a decision right is no substitute for making the right decision.
A seasoned leader will also understand the dark side of influence and the importance of integrity and big picture perspectives.
Furthermore, effective leaders understand the strength in being compassionate and hopeful and never try to take advantage of the self-righteous that are easily blinded by their emotions. Hopeful optimists are more apt to find solutions on damaged foundations, as opposed to pessimists that would rather point out the problems, dwell on the past and find a problem for every solution.
‘Leaders born or made’? This is quite a popular subject on social media these days. For what it’s worth, I believe that it’s a combination of both. I think that you need to be born with certain traits (integrity, compassion, security, likability, etc.) to be a successful leader., but that will not be enough.
You will need to learn some fundamental rules, perspectives, and skills in order to become the leader that others will follow. Motivation is not sustainable leadership. Inspiration and empowerment are, and you being the example, you will find that those traits you were born with will inspire those around you to stay committed to your path and guide others to do the same.
All forms of leadership require a long-term, committed obedience to stay on the endless road of understanding and self-improvement. This road is paved with the stones of Integrity, Temperance, Hope and “Intellectual Humility.”
Adopting a mindset of living within the foundations of “intellectual humility” will help leaders effectively develop followers to commit to yield positive and sustainable results. “Intellectual Humility” challenges you to lead by example and not try to be better than others, rather it commits you only to be a better version of yourself.
Luckily, in my case, I had terrific mentors that influenced and inspired me to be a better version of myself. I share what I learned to honor those that taught me, and in doing so I try to empower others to become effective and successful leaders.
The process of attaining a lifestyle of intellectual humility also will help remedy the current communication crisis which is becoming more and more prevalent with each passing day. Whether it be technology advances or discourse, our state of personal communication (or lack thereof) is troubling.
Diminished skills of articulation and cordial conversation is as alarming as it is crippling to the growth and development of individuals and organizations. No surprise here, as we are experiencing this crisis of communication in leadership in all aspects of our lives, on a daily basis.
Simply put, communication these days is overly calculated and more apt to deliver disingenuous perfection rather than a genuine imperfection. The former is too contrived and meant to be in-arguable, like words cast in stone, whereas the latter is more passionate and open to objective and mutually beneficial conversation. I have always found that the more areas of open communication, the more the chances are for cooperation, which in itself is always good when it comes to achieving goals as a team.
Achieving success requires listening with the genuine desire to understand so that you will learn something for everyone, every day. This is specifically important to the leader that aspires to inspire and empower others rather than just motivate an attempt to influence and control.
Dwight Eisenhower once said – “In order to be a leader, a man must have followers. and to have followers, a man must have their confidence. The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man’s associates find him guilty of being a phony, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must “square” with each other. Therefore the first great need is integrity and high purpose.”
Intellectual Humility – Being intelligent enough to understand the importance of knowing what you don’t know is just as important as knowing what you do know; being understated in a way that your reach never extends beyond your grasp; possessing a mind so open and curious, that you genuinely strive to learn something every day, from everyone that you encounter; being passionately interested in others, knowing that doing so makes you more interesting to everyone.
My 15 actions to develop a mindset of Intellectual Humility to effectively lead are:
1) Underachievers always make excuses; Winners always make time.
2) Learn when to give in, but don’t EVER to give up.
3) Lapses in judgment are human and often forgiven, however, there is simply no such thing as a lapse of integrity.
4) Intelligent people fight fire with water, never with fire. Only the unintelligent allow emotions to cloud their judgments and control their subsequent actions.
5) Be equally passionate about understanding others as you want to be understood yourself.
6) Winners are articulate storytellers yet know that to be interesting to others, you must first be genuinely interested in others. Be an enthusiastic listener.
7) Understand that while TIME heals all wounds, it kills all deals. Be respectful of your time and the time of others. Be expeditious and determined to finish what you start.
8) Possess a childlike curiosity to go along with a contagious smile and humbleness.
9) Know what you don’t know, and be so open-minded that you genuinely exhibit that you want to learn something from EVERYONE you meet.
10) Have high expectations of others, but even higher expectations for yourself.
11) Compromise to cooperate, but never at the expense of your principles or the integrity of your partners.
12) Be understated with a grasp that extends past your reach. The world already has too many overstated people with reaches that extend beyond their grasp.
13) Always be optimistic and genuinely excited about the future and the success of others, and let them know it.
14) Demand the highest in quality from your partners and always choose “character” over “characters” when building a team that represents your efforts.
15) Express genuine benevolence, compassion, responsibility, tolerance and understanding towards everyone you meet, every day, regardless of your own problems and their position in life.
In truth, Intellectual Humility isn’t really very complicated at all. Basically, it’s just an anatomy and path to achieving what many refer to as “the golden rule.” I often say if you want to make a real difference to those who surround you, just react in the same way as if your parents and grandparents were watching!
Remember, these tenets should be your foundation as you get on your journey to find success in the classroom, schoolyard, team locker room, family room and the boardroom. It all starts with a winning mindset. Thank you for reading!
“May you always have enough of the things you need for yourself and an abundance of the things you’d like to share with others. In this way, your hands will always be extended in friendship and never in want.” (James Vena)

James Vena
This post is an excerpt from a chapter dedicated to leadership development in my new book “The Entrepreneur’s Edge”
Learn more about me and my book The Entrepreneur’s Edge here: www.outskirtspress.com/theentrepreneursedge

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