published by the Nashville Business Journal
Anyone with desire, common sense, an open mind and a positive attitude can learn to lead. That probably means you! Leadership is not complicated but it requires a different kind of hard work. Leaders are always learning; the cycle of constant improvement never stops. After 50 years in leadership roles, I am still learning every day. So how can you learn to lead?
Network. Consider every opportunity to observe leadership and then associate with the kinds of leaders you wish to emulate. Ask your friends and peers about the best leaders they know, and attend events that will expose you the widest variety of leaders. I found conventions and trade shows to be excellent opportunities to meet and listen to leaders. The professional associations I made at the leadership conferences of our retail trade organization, for example, helped me benchmark myself against some of the very finest retail executives.
Be inquisitive. If you know of good leaders in your community or industry, find ways to listen to them and study what they have done. Try cold calling, explaining your interests and asking politely for a few minutes of their time or a lunch date. When you meet, come prepared with an agenda for learning. Always be asking questions to learn more about leadership.
Read leadership books. Select four books a year—one per quarter. Educate yourself more broadly by selecting different topics and a range of authors. Select topics on which you know you need to improve. Then practice the skills you read about.
Stay informed and in tune. Informed leaders make the best decisions, so stay up to date. Regularly read general business trends and industry-specific articles. Make it easy by subscribing to Forbes or Fortune with the goal of reading an interesting article or two twice a week. When you have time pick up the Wall Street Journal. Also stay current with industry journals. Even schedule time for an educational seminar or online class once a year.
Trust your instincts. Many years ago a mentor gave me advice that I draw on to this day: When theory says one thing and your gut tells you something else, go with your gut. This is particularly important when dealing with people and professional relationships.
Do the right thing. Walk the high road no matter the other influences. In the long run there is no substitute for integrity. Despite what is said or done by others, one of a leader’s greatest gifts is to stand up for doing the right thing every time.
If you want to be a leader stay curious, keep learning and then throw your hat in the ring. Make your intent to be a leader known. You might be surprised by how quickly you can fill an empty spot at the top. Good luck.