What I wish I knew about leadership 30 years ago

A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool. – William Shakespeare

One of the benefits of aging (not that I am old) is attaining a certain amount of wisdom that can be garnered from it. Being able to look back over a certain span of time and reflect on where you’ve come and lessons learned can be instrumental in how you look to the future. Sharing those life lessons to a new generation of leaders can be invaluable.

The late George Burns once said, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” That’s a great philosophy. But the aging process ultimately takes a toll on all of us.

What are some of the signs that you are getting older? Here are a few I came across that are my favorites: You know you’re getting older when… everything hurts and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work; the gleam in your eyes is from the sun hitting your bifocals; when you feel like the morning after and you haven’t been anywhere; your children begin to look middle aged; your favorite part of the newspaper is “20 Years Ago Today”; you sit in a rocking chair and can’t get it going; and finally, your knees buckle and your belt won’t.

I’ve been reflecting lately on the things about leadership I wish I knew back in my twenties that I now know. If I had understood them better it would have saved me a lot of grief and heartache along the way. Here are a few things about leadership I wish I had known.

I don’t always have to be right.

I know many in their twenties who think they know it all. I was one of them way too often. With the passing of time I have learned how much I don’t know. What I wish I knew back then was that my formal education was only the beginning. The real educational experience began after graduation –it’s called the real world. I wish I knew in my twenties just how little I knew, and that I didn’t always have to be right.

Building bridges is more practical than burning them

I wish I knew in my twenties the depth and breadth of how important relationships are in leadership. Sadly at times, it was a “my way or the highway” attitude that culminated in sad endings. As I’ve grown older the more I understand and care about building healthy relationships. I’ve grown to appreciate connecting with like-minded people and building more bridges between them and others.

Titles don’t mean a lot

What I thought was important in my twenties was acquiring a title- that somehow that validated my leadership. With that was the idea that my position commanded respect, admiration, and approval. I was wrong. In hindsight after 30 years I understand that a position without respect, trust, and integrity are meaningless. I’d stop chasing titles and positions and focus more on serving others.

Forgiveness is a virtue

Taking up the mantle of leadership is risky business. With all of the joys and rewards associated with it, also come disappointments and frustrations. In my twenties when I was wronged it was hard not to take it personal and not hold a grudge. What I wish I had known back then was that my un-forgiveness was not hurting the person who offended me, it was hurting me instead. Life is too short to hold grudges and be mad. Forgive and move on. And remember, you will need to be forgiven at some point.

It’s not about me

The narcissism of my twenties has given way to the “selfie” narcissism we see in today’s culture. Back in my twenties, of course, there were no cell phones, Internet, Facebook, etc. But the leadership principle remains. What I wish I knew then that I know now is that the ultimate act of my leadership is not what I do for myself but in what I do for others. My leadership is not meant to be self-serving but rather what I can do to add value to the lives of those around me.

One thing is certain--life in leadership is a continual learning process. Wherever you are on your journey, never stop growing.

What lessons have you learned?

© 2016 Doug Dickerson

Doug Dickerson is an internationally recognized leadership speaker, columnist, and author. A Lowcountry resident, Doug is available to speak for your civic, business, or church group. To learn more visit Dougdickerson.wordpress.com or email him at managementmoment@gmail.com.

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