I often tell people that leadership is a journey. When you think you’ve arrived at the top of the mountain, look up. You’ll always find another peak to climb.
The truth about leadership is actually coming to terms with never arriving at an absolute truth about how to lead yourself and others — it’s an ever evolving process of learning and growing. And the best of leaders never stop evolving; their journey never ends.
As you journey down your own leadership path, consider some of the best lessons every good leader has learned to steer them to make good decisions and influence others. Here are four of them.
1. Every good leader turns away from arrogance.
Because society place so much value on external accomplishments, appearance, and self-aggrandizement, the virtue of humility is mistakenly viewed as soft or weak — it’s the skinny kid that gets sand kicked on him by the neighborhood bully.
The Washington Post reports that, according to a 2016 College of Charleston survey, 56 percent of 5th and 6th graders believe that “the humble are embarrassed, sad, lonely or shy.” And when adults are asked to recount an experience of humility, “they often tell a story about a time when they were publicly humiliated.”
That’s the perception of humility. And nothing could be further from the truth.
Groundbreaking research by Bradley Owens and David Hekman, as reported by The Post, concluded that a humble leader doesn’t believe success is inevitable. “He constantly tests his progress. He revises and updates plans, in light of new situations and information. Acknowledging he doesn’t have all the answers, he solicits feedback. He encourages subordinates to take initiative. He prefers to celebrate others’ accomplishments over his own,” states The Post.
That’s certainly a more accurate depiction which emphasizes the strength of humility, and as the researchers assert, it doesn’t weaken leaders’ authority. Rather, “it gives them more flexibility in how they use their power.”
But here’s the thing: Calling oneself “humble,” however, is something a good leader cannot do; the very admission of it exposes them as potentially cocky. But I will say this — leaders with a humble disposition avoid the temptation of reacting from their bruised egos by wielding their positional power and weight for personal gain or to crush others. Instead, they draw from their inner strength, trusting in their integrity, self-control, and emotional intelligence to a different and better outcome.
2. Every good leader soaks up the wisdom of others.
Smart leaders stretch their knowledge beyond intellectual pursuits. They continually evolve by soaking up the wisdom of others, acknowledging that they don’t know it all. Remember this quote?
If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
You must view yourself as a small fish in the great big pond of life — seeking out connections and appointments from those further down the path than you in order to master new things.
3. Every good leader practices patience.
A leader who practices patience and is slow to anger receives far less attention and acclaim than a charismatic leader with a commanding presence but a short fuse. Yet the former has the clear edge.
In one 2012 study, researchers found that patient people made more progress toward their goals and were more satisfied when they achieved them (particularly if those goals were difficult) compared with less patient people.
Other research also found that patient people tend to experience less depression and negative emotions and can cope better with stressful situations. Additionally, they feel more gratitude, more connection to others, and experience a greater sense of abundance.
You can usually see through someone without patience because they tend to lack perspective and can’t stop their impulse from jumping into the worst conclusions.
On the flip side, people who exercise patience have self-control — their conduct is steady, rational, and manageable. In conflict, they seek to understand first before being understood; they speak little — giving them a clear edge in communicating and diffusing someone else’s anger.
4. Every good leader is self-aware.
In a study reported by Harvard Business Review, teams with less self-aware members substantially suffered; they made “worse decisions, engaged in less coordination, and showed less conflict management” as opposed to more self-aware individuals.
Self-awareness is crucial in leadership roles. They look at the whole picture and both sides of an issue. They tap into their feelings and the feelings of others to choose a different outcome to solving organizational or personal challenges.
Daniel Goleman, the foremost emotional intelligence expert, once said:
If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.