Leadership: 5 Lessons I’ve Learned

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October 26, 2013

I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve taught a lot of leadership and personal development courses. I’ve been to a lot of places. I’m always fascinated by life, truth, purpose and wisdom. I often encourage those I’ve worked with to chase wisdom – and to find people smarter than they are and ask them questions about their experiences and life’s lessons. I’m probably not one of those “smart people,” but I figured I’d share some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned so far in the area of life and leadership. So, in no particular order I share these:

1.  Simple is better. Life is complicated enough – don’t make it more complicated. Decide where you want to go, what you want to accomplish and write it down. Now edit. And then edit again. Become the kind of person/leader who knows the difference between all the “good” stuff you could be doing and the “extraordinary” things you should be doing. And just do the extraordinary. It might take a while to become a “master of exclusion,” but the results are a simpler, more streamlined existence where many decisions become crystal clear and less time is wasted. And yes – you will have to make constant adjustments to keep it simple. The complicated crowds in really fast…

2.  One “right person” is way better than 1000 mediocre “supporters.” Yes, influence thousands. Change the thinking of millions. Train the masses. All of that is good and the goal of many leaders. But when it comes to your core – the heart of your leadership – finding a small group of smart people is the key. Or even just one smart person. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll find someone who understands you (yes, the good, the bad and the ugly), enhances your vision  and who will stick with you. And no, these people are NOT easy to find! 🙂

3.  Pushing is better than waiting.  Now, I’m not talking about patience. Patience is good. I’m talking about the difference between those who push to get what they want and those who wait for life to unfold in a passive, victim-like way. The most important (and interesting) things I have been able to accomplish have happened because I pushed. And i’m not alone in this – Mr. Mohamad Ragaie, Global Next’s operations director for Egypt has demonstrated this principle personally. Egypt ranks number 89 out of 103 nations on the freedom of travel list. When Mr. Ragaie decided he wanted to participate in Global Next’s international conferences in Europe, he didn’t let these odds deter him. He simply pursued his visas until the embassies eventually just gave in to him. He succeeded simply because he pushed and outlasted the competition. And in this case, the competition was foreign governments. 🙂

4.  People are pretty much what they seem to be. Aside from the usual human frailties and the occasional misunderstanding, what you see is usually what you get. It’s easy, especially if you work in the area of human development, to hope that people are better than they are. You begin to make excuses for people and to rationalize away their clear behavior. I have found that this wastes professional and emotional energy.  Generally speaking, people do what they want. If they want to learn, they will. If they are committed, they will show up. If they are drawn to a cause or organization, you will not be able to keep them away. And, if they are not – they won’t. It’s that simple. Don’t allow the conviction of your vision cause you to see things in others that aren’t there.

5.  Don’t be too sure of too much too soon. I have found that credible leaders are honest about what they do and do not know. It’s ok to leave room for some doubt as you sort out truth in life. I had a conversation with with Frank Schaeffer, the son of the great Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer. Frank grew up in a home where not only were answers about life and meaning and purpose discussed, but they were debated. He was pretty sure of everything – and felt that it had already been debated enough – without his input. Later in life he went through a crisis of faith and wrote a book about it. In our conversation after that book was published, I asked him what his greatest regret was. He said that it was “being too sure of too much too soon.”  That has stuck with me. It’s not that there isn’t truth – there is, and it is knowable. But what I’ve learned is this – to know what you really believe and to choose to live a life that reflects that, you need to do the hard work, ask the hard questions, and sort it out. No one can do it for you. And yes, it can get a little uncomfortable from time to time. But truth is always worth the effort.

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