5 things I've learned about Leadership

Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash

Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash

This post was originally published as a LinkedIn post on August 20, 2017. The original can be viewed here

1.        The Importance of having a Vision. 

Whether it is near term or long term, simple or complex, for your company or just for your department/team, it doesn’t matter. Just have one. It makes a big difference.

2.        A Leader succeeds only when the team succeeds.

I learned early on through a mentor that to be a good leader, you need to first be a good follower. I learned this while in the military and it has guided me in how I approach my career, the jobs I’ve had, and how I interact with my team.  Some people try to lead without ever experiencing what it’s like to BE led which, I feel, is a recipe for alienation, unproductive conflict, and resistance. This is especially important since your leadership, behaviors, and actions at the day to day level have the greatest(and long lasting!) impact on your followers.

To be a leader is a privilege, not a right. And I stay mindful that the people I lead have put their trust in me to lead them.

Developing my leadership in this manner has deepened my empathy and compassion for my team members and for the hardships that they endure and accept as a result of following me.

It’s raised my self-awareness by enabling me to understand the day to day frustrations of being a front line employee. For example, it’s now easy for me to empathize with a shop floor employee who only has 30minutes for lunch. Since it takes 10min to walk from his workstation to the cafeteria, the worker actually has only 10minutes for lunch(10m to walk to cafeteria, 10m for lunch, and 10m to return to his workstation). 

I’ve become more introspective and I often find myself asking “What kind of impact do I want to have on my team?” and “How will my team react and respond to this new rule or process?”. 

3.        To be a Leader is to be a Learner.

I never stop asking questions and I never stop reading. For me, to lead is to learn - I am a forever student. Over the years, I’ve discovered that the more I learn about leadership, the more I *need* to learn about leadership. The amount of knowledge in a library on any given topic is staggeringly vast. Great leaders know that the more they learn aboutpeople, especially psychology, the better they can lead people. I’ve seen leaders choose to stop learning, to stop questioning their assumptions, and to remain inflexible in their leadership style. What often happens is alienation, resentment, and dysfunction. At the very least, the leader does not bring out the best but the worst in a follower through behaviors and actions that cause followers to frame their leader as an enemy to be opposed and defeated.

4.        A Deep appreciation for Organizational Behaviour/Unit culture

Having worked at many organizations, I’m struck by how easy it is for leaders to be out of touch with the day to day culture of the business units they run. There is often a big difference between the culture up at the top and the culture down at the bottom - the front lines. Especially when it involves line employees(aka. “the grunts”). These operational environments are usually characterized by sustained stress and a perpetual pressure to meet deadlines and quotas.

I’ve learned that it’s crucial to be aware of the day to day front line culture of your team or department because the frontline culture is where and how work ultimately gets done, how strategy gets executed, and where employees interact with customers.  

Being aware of the day to day work reality of my team helps keep me connected to my commitment to myself and to my team to always respond and act with compassion and empathy rather than in any other way. When necessary, I even advocate for their interests.

5.        The Value of personal and professional Self – Reflection

People are not generally aware of the tremendous impact that national culture has on their vision and interpretation of the world” (Javidan et al., 2006, p. 67)

When we don’t self-reflect, we miss out on important opportunities to learn about ourselves and from ourselves - through our interactions with others. Asking ourselves “Why do I believe the things that I do?” and “What factors shaped how I behave and respond to triggers the way I do?” helps us understand the impact we aspire to have on our team vs the actual impact we have on our team. Self-reflection allows us to become more socially and emotionally intelligent – key skills required of any leader in any position. With these skills, leaders become global leaders who can distinguish between behaviors that are effective in one culture but can cause harm in others. What elevates one group’s affinity to you can also elevate another group’s aversion to you(Javidan et al., 2006, p. 68)


Javidan, M., Dorfman, P., Mary Sully de Luque, & House, R. (2006). In the Eye of the Beholder: Cross Cultural Lessons in Leadership from Project GLOBE. Academy of Management Perspectives, 20(1), 67-90. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274638154_In_the_Eye_of_the_Beholder_Cross_Cultural_Lessons_in_Leadership_from_Project_GLOBE