Wisdom beyond books.

A short while ago 2 of my students came up to me and asked me this:

‘Why is it that in today’s world the number of books on leadership is higher than ever before, but at the same time there’s hardly any true leaders left?’

The question literally made me feel sick to the stomach and I could have asked them what true leadership meant to them but the worried looks on their faces, kind of said it all. Their question left me speechless and never really left my mind.

My first instinct was to blame the politicians, current world leaders and those CEO’s who only do it for the money …but having been a manager for at least half of my career, was I not to blame also? It seemed to me that it was too easy to blame others. I started thinking about the question some more.

Why is it that in today’s world the number of books on leadership is higher than ever before, but at the same time there are hardly any true leaders left? How did I become a leader and what does true leadership mean to me?

Looking back at my career and where I am today, I certainly can’t complain about the investments taken by my employers to teach me about leadership. I was enrolled in many leadership programs, was offered many books about leadership which I read, had and still have the opportunity to meet with senior leaders across many different industries but still… the things I value most in leadership were taught to me by … other leaders.

Leaders learn from leaders.

In the same way that Native Americans have elders teaching the others about their ways or just as parents supporting their children to grow to become adults by sharing what they experienced in life, I actually learned about leadership from other leaders. It were the bosses, colleagues, family members, friends or even strangers that were willing to share their experiences with me when I was dealing with something difficult or hitting rock bottom who made me the leader I am today. And it will be other bosses, colleagues, family members, friends or even strangers that will make me the leader of tomorrow.

So what are the main teachings about true leadership for me? It is difficult to make a ranking but here are some of the key things I will always remember and try to apply in every situation:

The 5 main teachings about true leadership.

  • A leader listens to what people say, acknowledges it and will leave sufficient space and time to accept as it is without judgement or interpretation. A leader listens to what people say, acknowledges it and will leave sufficient space and time to accept as it is without judgement or interpretation.
  • When going to war a leader will defend the weak and enable the strong to take the lead but will always – and I mean always – be in front of both.
  • A leader accepts to make mistakes as part of human nature but will apologize and correct and will adopt the same attitude towards others. As such, a leader will never blame others for making mistakes but teach people how to learn from them.
  • A leader is not afraid to be vulnerable and shares real feelings with others.
  • A leader gives people feedback that enables them to grow and develop their own potential – developing potential as such is not the role of a leader as this responsibility resides with the individual.

I am not sure whether this is helpful in any way for the students that asked me the question. I am very grateful for the question though and I do know that from now on, I take the commitment to share what I know about leadership with others. After all this is how leadership was passed on from generation to generation … long before any books were written.

I invite all of you leaders out there to share what you know about leadership. By replying to this message, by teaching your ways to others, by acknowledging that we have all it takes to change a thing or two in this world today. We owe it to the youngsters… we owe it to the world. It’s what leadership is all about.

Innerness

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