Leadership is a complex subject, to be sure. Far too many people consider that complexity an excuse to replace truth with opinion and in the process, muddy the waters so much that those wishing to study the subject have few places where they can start learning the basics.
The best way to learn leadership is to study those who have accomplished what you are setting out to do. Being a leader is not simply a matter of rank, nor is it a matter of prestige. It is also not a talent. Leadership is learned.
There’s a very important reason the military trains leaders by making them learn to follow first. It is impossible to recognize leadership unless you’ve experienced it. When a low-ranking or inexperienced person sees a leader in action, and that leader influences their ability to learn, grow and become more capable, it is often a life-changing event. That spark is what eventually becomes the flame of leadership.
It is the person who goes the extra mile for their people that most often becomes a leader. This means exactly what it says. Leaders go to bat for their team. They protect and encourage the people they train, and in return, they expect the qualities they inspire to show in the work done by their team because it reflects on everyone.
The word that most completely describes this quality is honor. The honorable person treats others with fairness and does not seek to aggrandize themselves at the expense of others.
Great bosses are often described as a person “with whom you know where you stand.” True leadership clears away all the guesswork, intrigue and confusion to make room for honesty and forthrightness. This level of honesty is difficult for some, as good leaders don’t try to pave over the bad news with euphemisms and false encouragement.
These qualities combine to form integrity, which is one of the raw materials for courage. A leader who brings together even a small number of courageous people is most likely to change things for the better.
The best thing about leadership is that it is self-perpetuating and it has a tendency to strengthen organizations of nearly any size. Once people begin to see the results of strong leadership and see the clear benefits of participating in a culture of honor, integrity, and courage, they will put those practices to work in whatever they do. That is how great organizations accomplish great things.