Ten Time-Tested Truths about Leadership (Part 5, concluding our series):

by V. S. Ravi Elangkoh

“To learn, to lead, and to love learning and leading, is what real leaders do.”  
                                                                                                                 ~ V. S. Ravi Elangkoh

In the final part of our five-article series, we cover the ninth and tenth truths about leadership that are attributed to James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner.

LEAD and LEARN wordsTruth no. 1:  YOU make a difference.

Truth no. 2:  Credibility is the foundation of leadership

Truth no. 3:  Values drive commitment.

Truth no. 4:  Focusing on the future sets leaders apart.

Truth no. 5:  You can’t do it alone.

Truth no. 6:  Trust rules.

Truth no. 7:  Challenge is the crucible for greatness.

Truth no. 8:  You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all.

Truth no. 9:   The best leaders are the best learners.

Truth no. 10:  Leadership is an affair of the heart.

Let us reflect on how these truths can apply to us.

Truth no. 9: The best leaders are the best learners.

Wise are they who know that they don’t know; therefore they are willing to learn. Wise leaders know they may not be good enough for the next challenge, so they are eager to continuously improve themselves in order to excel.

Kouzes and Posner express it succinctly when they declare that, “Learning is the master skill.” Indeed, without the will and ability to learn, we would remain unteachable and ignorant about many things.

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How then should we learn? Learning methods are boundless – some common ways of learning include reading, discussing case studies, experimenting with ideas, reflecting on our behaviour and being coached. Many top trainers and coaches I know invest thousands of dollars and spend hours in personal learning, both formally and informally. They take courses and get qualifications, not for the sake of collecting accolades, but because they have a passion for learning and because as leaders who train and coach others, they need to be exemplary learners themselves.

But here’s a caveat: your mindset has a great impact on your “learnability”. Your beliefs determine your propensity to learn and the learning outcomes. Unfortunately, some employees enter training and coaching sessions with the wrong mindset. They attend simply because their bosses have asked them to, and since they don’t pay for the courses, they don’t stand to lose any money in the event that they don’t gain anything from the whole exercise. Starting any course with a negative attitude is self-defeating and usually ends up as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Learning involves deliberate practice. For musicians and sportspeople, that means hours of rigorous daily practice. For leaders, it includes not only the hands-on practice you get on-the-job, but also the simulated sessions you experience during training programmes.

Another key takeaway is that throughout one’s learning, support and encouragement are vital. That is why having a coach and/or mentor is important.

In rounding up this truth, the adage that a chain is as strong as its weakest link, applies to leadership as well – you are as good as your weakest skill. But rest assured – all the skills you need to become a leader, are learnable.

Truth no. 10: Leadership is an affair of the heart.

There is a certain elderly political figure from a national opposition party in Malaysia whom the people of his constituency respect and love, to the extent that they have unfailingly voted for him over the decades.

Why do they love him? They do so because this leader clearly loves his people, not so much through verbal declarations, but from his behaviour and actions. He shows that he cares not for the riches which many others have gained from kickbacks or for the glory of fame and powerful titles, but he cares for the welfare of his people as evident from his extremely humble lifestyle and approachable demeanour.

Do you lead to be loved, or do you lead to love? Are you seeking to be a leadership legend or to leave a legacy of exemplary leadership that others may emulate to make the world a better place?

In closing, I would like to summarize the ninth and tenth truths in my own words: “To learn, to lead, and to love learning and leading, is what real leaders do.” Love your people and what you do for them and with them; they will feel it and return you the favour. Better still, they extend that favour to the entire community, setting off a chain reaction of positive values, behaviour and leadership.