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Lessons in leadership

A few months ago, someone at work asked me to give a speech about leadership.

Lessons in leadership

A few months ago, someone at work asked me to give a speech about leadership. 

It was a weird request for two reasons: first, because I’m used to writing speeches for other people, not giving them myself. I’ve spent most of the last 18 years writing words for other people to say – which involves listening to them, understanding their “voice” and helping them to communicate their message. I’d never given any thought to what my “voice” was, or what my own message would be. 

The second reason the request seemed weird is that I hadn’t really thought much about my role as a leader. In the hospital where I work, I lead a small communications team and am part of a group of senior administrators. My days are full of meetings, media calls and strategy sessions. Until I was asked to give the speech, I’d never really had time to think about what my leadership philosophy might be. I was too busy doing my job to consider it. 

Once I sat down to write the speech, though, I realized that over my years of work in a bunch of different jobs, I’ve learned an awful lot about leadership. I have been privileged to work with some really impressive teachers, politicians, physicians and administrators. All of them have given me valuable insights into motivating, inspiring and directing others. 

At a time when there are so many examples of bad leadership in the world (and one astonishingly, tragically, glaringly terrible example who spends his time Tweeting from the White House) I thought it might be helpful to pass along five good lessons from excellent leaders. 
   
There is always a cost to conflict 
In my first year of teaching, I got into a stupid fight with a fellow teacher. My principal sat me down and said: “Lloyd, every time you have a conflict, you pay for it. Maybe not right away, but eventually and inevitably.” Too often, leaders are too concerned about being right, and not concerned enough about understanding other points of view or being kind. 

Don’t be smart, be good 
A lot of leaders want to be the smartest person in the room. That’s hard, because there are a lot of brilliant people in the world. In the places I’ve worked – in health care, education and politics – smart people are everywhere. Smart people scare insecure leaders, but a wise leader surrounds him or herself with smart people and uses those smarts to improve the organization. The best leaders are good people – with a strong moral compass – who know where they want to go, and why, and can get other people to help them. 

Reputation and character are not the same thing 
Politicians get slammed in the press constantly. My son used to get upset when he saw my boss, the Premier, being mocked on the cover of the Toronto Sun. But my boss had a thick skin and never let it get to him. In this era of social media, people in other professions who aren’t used to that same level of criticism – like doctors and teachers – are suddenly finding themselves scrutinized on sites like “Rate my MD” or “Rate my Professor.” But, as one of my bosses used to say, leaders need to remember that “reputation is what other people say you are, and character is who you know you are.” Ultimately, leaders need to be people of good character.  

Leadership doesn’t change you, it exposes you 
When Donald Trump became President, a lot of people said he would “grow into the job.” One of my bosses had a different take on that. She said that when you assume a leadership role, it doesn’t change your personality; it shines a light on it. If you’re someone who needs to have control, you’ll be a controlling leader. If you’re worried about status, you’ll be a status-seeking leader. When you take on a leadership role, people will see those strengths and weaknesses, so you should only become a leader if you’re prepared to confront some pretty hard truths about yourself. 

Leaders are disciplined 
Some of the best leaders I’ve worked with are also some of the most disciplined people I have ever met. Leadership puts a lot of demands on your time, so keeping a regular schedule that includes making time for exercise, nutrition and friends and family is important. 

Of course, the best advice about leadership comes from scripture. In Philippians we read: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Too many leaders choose leadership to elevate themselves, rather than to help others. The irony is that selfish and vain leaders are soon exposed for being weak leaders, whereas people who work hard to lift other people up and improve the lives of people around them are strong and trustworthy. A good test of leadership is always to look carefully at what leaders say – are they talking about things that are important to them, or to you? 

Something to think about the next time you’re reading a leader’s words on, say, Twitter. 

About the Author
Lessons in leadership

Lloyd Rang, Columnist

Lloyd Rang works in communications and is a member of Rehoboth CRC in Bowmanville.