Advice to a young man about leadership

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I just received an email from a young man who asked for advice on becoming a good leader. Here is my reply to him, with some personal stuff removed.

Thanks for your note. You want to become a “good leader.” Here are my thoughts.

Try on the role. Despite the romance of leadership, not everyone likes the job.

If you find leading to be a fit, seek opportunities to lead in small things. You will learn the craft on the job. If you do well, you will be given more and bigger opportunities.

Look for effective leaders to use as role models. When you confront a leadership situation ask, “How would my role model handle this?”

Get feedback. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Critique your own leadership behavior and results. Always ask, “How could I do this better next time?”

Find others who will give you feedback. One of them might become a mentor.

Leadership is a set of skills that you will never master. You will learn most of it on the job. Feedback will accelerate your learning.

You may have noted that I haven’t suggested any courses. Many of them are good, but they’re usually best for specific skills, not leadership in general.

Read about leaders, not about leadership. Human beings learn best from concrete examples. And there are hundreds of leaders from history to learn from.

Boss’s Bottom Line

Leadership development is a lifelong quest to get better. You’ll do better if you seek out developmental opportunities and get lots of helpful feedback.

It’s also your job to help your people develop. Some of them will want to lead. Help them find out if it’s for them. Help all your people skills that will move them ahead.

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