Two Leadership Lessons I Wish I’d Known

I was asked to talk to a local high school class about leading a business.  Great kids, who were quite attentive (or just may have been glad to not have homework). Leading…hmm…what did I not know back in my high school days?  What did I assume it took?  And as I thought about it, what do my employees think it takes?  What ideas am I intentionally, or unintentionally, communicating about what it takes to succeed at our company?

So I started our time by asking the class - what do you think it takes to succeed in business?  As you might imagine, they listed all sorts of things – intelligence, luck, skill, creativity, who you know, money, good looks (obviously, they weren’t talking about me), power, etc.

I then asked them how things got done in a business – “By hard work,” they said.  “Through planning, by getting the right people together….”   They all quickly came to one conclusion – through people.

How interesting…the first list included a lot, but not people.  And then the realization that people are what makes it all work.

Lesson One I Didn’t Know – People are the thing that makes our business grow.

“So,” I now asked, “how do you lead people?  What is leadership?”  They had all sorts of definitions, but we talked further about two we’ve all heard before:  leadership is influence (Maxwell) and leadership is getting things done through others (various).

Given that, who has influenced you the most?  How did that happen?  The names that came to mind included coaches, teachers, grandparents, parents, friends.  OK – then tell me what you thought about them.  What was it about them that you chose to follow them in those moments?

The thoughts came quickly as I wrote them on the board…“Respect (for me), they listened, he was patient, she cared, they stuck by me when it was hard, he explained things to me, she didn’t get mad when she should have, they forgave…”

Looking at the list, themes came through.  Patient, kind, self-control, humility…  Is that the kind of leader you want to be?  “Yes” was the resounding answer.

Since it was a Christian school, two scripture passages came to the forefront – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Galatians 6:22-23.  You might want to look them up if its been awhile.   I’ve since learned also of a book call “The Servant” by James Hunter - a great business fable that covers this second lesson.

Lesson Two I Didn’t Know – Lead by loving your employees.

Love people to lead.  Serve.  Go figure.  I wish I’d learned that earlier, and am so glad I know it now.  You?