When many people look at powerful leaders, they only see the results of their success. They see freedom, fame and fun associated with Richard Branson. They think back to how Nelson Mandela inspired his country and the entire world to unite regardless of race through his peaceful wisdom and leadership. They remember Apple’s success with the much-loved birth of the iPod, iTunes and the iPhone.
They forget the journey toward success, believing that it’s something a lucky few are born with.
Nurture or Nature?
Most people believe leadership skills are not something everyone can have.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s destiny.
However, from all my research, this seems very improbable. Far more probable causes of success are hard work, perseverance and making tough choices. The work, however, is not physical labor, but emotional work. It’s challenging your limiting beliefs until you start believing anything is possible.
In the Shoes of Richard Branson
Richard Branson’s mother pushed him far outside his comfort zone as a shy little boy, shaping the risk-taker he later became. She once dropped him off next to the road telling him to find his way home. Being dyslexic in a school system designed for non-dyslexics was also far less than easy. His only luck was that he was pushed so hard early on that everything else after that felt easy.
Fighting for Peace During Apartheid
Nelson Mandela was not always the peace-loving sage the world came to love. He was an angry and rebellious youth, ultimately resulting in his imprisonment.
The Apple of Technology’s Eye
Steve Jobs, the brain child of the much-loved Apple brand, dropped out of university, realizing that he was spending his parents’ life savings on something he couldn’t see the value in. He slept on the floor of his fellow students’ dorm rooms and walked seven miles for a decent meal once a week. He was fired from his own company and struggled with cancer. No one I know would call that lucky.
These leaders had two things in common: They followed their hearts, and they never gave up in the face of hardship. Like a lotus flower, they kept growing toward the sun, fighting their way through the mud.
Leadership development is much more like the slow growth of a lotus flower than a ready-made bouquet of flowers. Most people, however, believe that becoming a leader is as easy as ordering flowers online, just studying at a prestigious business school.
A business school will teach you all the techniques required to run a business. It will teach you the different business models, how to market your business, and how to hire and motivate talent. What it won’t teach you, though, is how to trust, how to take responsibility, and how to create and maintain a compelling vision.
These lessons are free to everyone who wishes to learn them, offered by life itself.
The curriculum is set, yet the student is free to choose when which lesson is learned. Here are the three most crucial leadership skills.
Trust is the foundation of a healthy organization. Everything starts with trust. When a leader lacks trust, they will spend more energy controlling than creating a compelling vision.
Learning to trust is learning to live authentically regardless of criticism. It’s finding and following your passion and overcoming the obstacles on the way. It’s facing your fears, with nothing holding you back from realizing your dreams.
Making mistakes or showing your weaker side makes you more human and more approachable. This, in turn, earns the trust and respect of your followers. When you try to be the perfect role model, never making mistakes, it becomes impossible to live up to your expectations.
People are much more likely to commit when they’ve been embarrassed in front of a group.
The third essential leadership skill is the ability to keep sight of a heartfelt vision at all times.
Getting distracted is easy. Remaining focused when you’re so entangled in the process of development that you lose sight of the bigger picture is hard.
That’s why heartfelt passion is so important; it will always guide you.
Leadership development is the process of learning to trust and rely on yourself for all your needs.
A true leader is someone who has learned the values of trust, humility and focused determination. It’s someone with such a deep desire within that no matter what, they’ll never give up on their dreams.