5 Hard Truths About Leadership That You Never Stop Learning

Illustration by istockphoto.com
Illustration by istockphoto.com

As an Organizational Development and Leadership practitioner, I often find myself having conversations about leadership – what it is and what it isn’t – and how to be a good leader.

It’s time for some truths.

So what are some hard truths about leadership?

1. It ain’t easy

Anyone who has ever been in a leadership role knows it’s a complex and often an exhausting and lonely position.

Be careful how fast you rush to climb the leadership ladder. Leadership requires being focused on more than one thing at a time: strategy, process, culture – people. Seeing how all these things are connected takes vision and the ability to see the bigger picture.

Successful leadership requires heightened self-awareness, expert communication, and accountability. These aren’t skills we all inherently have, or have a desire to learn. It doesn’t get any easier at the top – and the learning doesn’t just stop.

2. Leadership isn’t management

If you’re in a leadership position, you may likely share many of the same responsibilities as a manager. The truth is that the roles are not the same.

Leadership requires creating a vision of the future and engaging people in moving toward it. Leadership connects the big ideas to what matters to the people around them: employees, customers, and stakeholders. Leadership sets direction, builds agreement, influences and motivates others, and inspires commitment.

Management develops specific goals and project plans, allocates resources, and solves obstacles to execute on the vision and strategy set forth by leadership. Management executes plans to make leaderships future direction a reality.

Leadership and management are both essential to building great organizations.

3. You can’t do it all

Great leaders understand their organizational culture because they’ve most likely helped and are continuing to help shape the culture and the future direction.

Leaders need to delegate and they need to empower. Truth is many leaders are great visionaries and see big picture very well, but if they don’t hire the right people to connect the dots – and empower them to do so – then the vision often doesn’t become a reality.

It’s often difficult for some leaders to back off from trying to have a hand in everything. If you want the business to be successful, you need to let the people you hired perform their jobs.

Let the managers manage, let the subject matter experts deliver. Make yourself available but back off.

4. Know how to communicate

Just because you may be in a leadership role doesn’t always mean you are an expert communicator.

It’s imperative for success that leaders know how to communicate. Truth is, this is not a skill obtained by title alone.

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Some leaders have the gift for communication, some can learn, some may just never master the art. Part of being a good communicator is also being open to feedback from those you lead.

We all have developmental areas regardless of position in the organization. Communication and remaining open to feedback is how you will learn where you can improve.

Training exists everywhere, but before you jump on the bandwagon of the current theory/trend, request some direct feedback and then look into what training may help best address developmental areas.

5. You are what you do

Leaders must embody the values they want employees to adopt.

It’s necessary that leadership serves as role models. Mean what you say and do what you mean. Truth is, they are watching!

To be a role model you must be accountable, approachable, compassionate, transparent, and open to feedback. Exemplify the best and lead by example.

No great leader ever got anything done without inspiring and empowering others. Leadership can’t happen in a vacuum.

The best leaders don’t shy away from facing hard truths – and they never stop learning.

Interested in more? Feel free to contact me, and I’m happy to share my checklist: How to Become a Great Leader.

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.

Scott Span, MSOD, CSM, is CEO at Tolero Solutions. His focus is people. He is a leadership coach and people strategist, which includes a focus on communications and change management. He supports leaders, teams, and individuals to survive and thrive through personal and professional change and transition. He supports organizations to engage and retain talent and wow customers, achieving success through people, creating places where people enjoy working and customers enjoy doing business.