John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” I truly believe this should be the foundation for all leadership. I also believe this should quickly be followed with, “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another” (John C. Maxwell). I truly believe leadership is about listening, learning, and lifting others up. This is why leadership is not a position one holds, but rather a way of life. It is a person who others would follow naturally, not because of a title.
People who feel valued and respected will follow leadership wholeheartedly. The question then becomes, how does leadership help others feel valued and respected? I believe value and respect should be one in the same. For example, I value my wife, and because I value her, I will do everything I can to show her respect by how I treat her. Value and respect are shown by how we treat something or someone. Consider the following: You buy a new car. You have high expectations about eating in the car, tracking mud in the car, and how others treat your car. You might even decide that you will park 3 or 4 spaces down from other cars so that you do not risk getting a ding on the side. Ultimately, you value your car and want to respect it because of its newness. But what happens after a while? The newness wears off, and your respect for the car also wears off. In fact, you might think it’s time for another new car. There are many examples I could use, but the point is, when something is new, we respect and value it more, but as time wears on, our respect and value seem to diminish.
Because respect and value diminish over time, it is vital that leadership is in a constant state of reflection. Leadership is not perfect by any means, and people in leadership make plenty of mistakes, but it is what we do with our mistakes that determines our character as a leader. Another one of my favorite quotes relates very well with this, “Learning without reflection is a waste. Reflection without learning is dangerous” (Confucious). In other words, we must always be in a state of reflection and be willing to learn from mistakes and errors. Learning is the process of trying and failing over and over to reach a desired goal. Notice, learning is a process. This is why “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Leadership will not get it right on the first try, and if they do, it is a rare event. However, true leadership will reflect on choices and decisions, determine what was done well and what wasn’t, and then make changes to their way of thinking, their attitude, and their mindset. Afterall, leadership is the example everyone is looking at.
Did you catch the important piece of leadership that I mentioned above? Leadership makes changes…to THEIR way of thinking, THEIR attitude, and THEIR mindset. You see, leadership is not about forcing others to think and believe the same way they do. That way of thinking is dangerous. If you don’t believe me, check out the German leader of WWII, or the tyrant king of England between 1760 and 1776. Leadership must constantly have an open mind, be willing to listen to those they are leading, and most importantly, be humble enough to admit fault and wrong doing. I believe this is part of showing value and respect to others. Nobody likes or respects someone who thinks they are always right. Nobody listens to someone who won’t listen to them. Nobody will follow a leader who is unwilling to admit mistakes, take responsibility, and make changes to correct THEIR behavior. Leadership is not a position, it is a way of life.
Ultimately, leadership is about how we treat others. Are we willing to listen with an open mind? Are we willing to humbly admit faults and mistakes? Are we willing to learn from our faults and failures and make changes to OUR way of thinking and living? Do we see ourselves as someone who must be followed, or someone who is ready to serve and help others? Leadership is a direct reflection of your character. As you lead, determine what kind of character you are leading with.