“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak;
be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid;
be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”
Last night when I got home my 12 year old daughter announced that she wanted to interview me for a school project on leadership. I thought to myself, “Sure, how hard can this be?” Boy was I in for a surprise.
The first few questions were simple enough and focused on the qualities of a good leader and the characteristics of poor leaders. I shared how the best leaders are good communicators, great listeners, and seek the input of others. On the flip side I was able, with some measure of confidence, to warn her of the characteristics of “not so good” leaders – arrogance, self-sufficiency, poor listeners, intimidators and angry know-it-alls. By this time I thought I was doing great.
I briefly imagined her teacher calling me with the question, “Mr. Smith, your interview on leadership was inspiring. Would you be willing to come in and speak to our entire school?” Then questions 13 & 14 snapped me back to reality.
- Question #13 – Do you ALWAYS act like a leader? (emphasis mine)
- Question #14 – Have you EVER had any bad leader qualities? (emphasis mine)
I answered “Yes” and “No”, but unfortunately, not in that order. I had to answer, “No honey, I don’t always act like a leader should.” And, “I’ve had all the qualities of bad leaders.”
As if I had to remind her of what she already knows, I am not a perfect leader. I have unfortunately been “arrogant, self-sufficient, a really poor listener, intimidating and an angry know-it-all”. But I could also share with her the 2 realities I know to be true about leadership.
Leadership is a Journey
Leaders never “arrive”. All great leaders know that there is always more to LEARN, more to BECOME and more they can BE. Leadership is a life-long education, a journey, not a destination.
Leadership is a Privilege
I am a leader not because I say I am, but because our team allows me to be. Leadership is not something owed me. It’s something I must earn everyday. That certainly doesn’t mean that leadership is a popularity contest. It does mean that leadership is a responsibility and an honor with which I have been entrusted.
I regularly ask myself two questions about my role as leader in our company. Two questions that define are a mirror of my true value as leader.
- What am I doing to build up our team?
- What am I doing that holds us back?
My daughter’s “15 leader questions (for dad)” reminded me of how much I have yet to learn about leadership. I am certainly no expert. I am a struggling novice who too often sees more that he does wrong than right. But I am striving, reaching, learning, and stretching to instill, inspire and challenge my team (and my daughter) to achieve greater things together than we could ever achieve apart. To me, that is real leadership.