I found myself pondering this question the other day and I think I have an answer: Wisdom comes from a combination of learning from experience, reflecting deeply on those experiences, and applying the scientific method (that is, trying to find objective support for what you have learned, and/or testing whether what you have learned, or what you think you have learned, is valid).
Here are some leadership lessons that I have learned from the combination of experience, observation, and what we know from the research literature on leadership.
1. Be Authentic. It is critically important to let others know where you stand on issues. Dealing straightforwardly with others is the key to authenticity. Indeed, authentic leadership is becoming a very popular theory of leadership.
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Arguably, the biggest mistake that leaders make is under-communicating. Many times leaders believe others know more than they actually do. Make sure to let others know what is going on – the direction the company is taking, any critical changes (particularly those that may affect them), and address any rumors that are going on with information that informs workers. It is nearly impossible to over-communicate.
3. Don’t Be Stingy with Praise. Too many leaders dole out praise like it is money from their own pocket. Show appreciation for the accomplishments of others – and do it frequently. Research supports the idea that positive reinforcement is extremely effective, and under-used.
4. The One Hour Rule. This is a more practical lesson and it comes from an informal policy at my previous institution. The “one hour rule” refers to a norm that typical department, committee, or team meetings should be scheduled for no more than one hour. If a longer meeting is needed, people are told in advance. What is the lesson for leaders from this rule? Use your time wisely. Don’t waste others’ time needlessly. If you can get it done in 15 minutes, get it done!
5. Be Patient, But Not Too Patient. We all work at different paces, and sometimes people take longer to perform a task than we would, or complications arise that delay completion. Learn to be patient with others, but it is also important to not allow unnecessary procrastination. Leaders can cut followers some slack, but not too much.
6. Be Kind, But Not Too Kind. Leaders need to be aware of the power dynamic and avoid being too overbearing. Kindness can go a long way toward building good leader-follower relationships. It is important, however, for a leader to not allow followers to take advantage of that kindness.
What are some of your important leadership lessons learned from experience?
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