(Aug. 21, 2020) – Leadership is one of those words that has been tossed around so often that its meaning has become almost indefinable. Books have been written about it; educational conferences have been devoted to it; even undergraduate majors and graduate degrees have been designed around it.
Even though I don't have a degree in leadership studies, I have read a lot of books on the subject and attended many meetings devoted to the topic. Many of them were interesting and instructive. Still, my sense is that if I have learned anything about leadership, the vast majority of that education has been the result of experience, interactions with others and my own mistakes.
Over the years, I've received many leadership lessons from Kansas Hospital Association members, as I have watched them deal with the dichotomy of being a valuable community resource that is often taken for granted. But I've also learned from the KHA staff, my family, the people in the small town where I grew up and even a few (very few) politicians. I have seen on countless occasions the poise, patience, perseverance and empathy that are important elements of leadership. This list could go on and on, but I'd like to briefly mention several others.
I think leadership is very personal, so while you might have role models, it's not as easy as just trying to emulate someone else. It begins with looking in the mirror. You must first be comfortable leading that jumble of thoughts and emotions contained in your own skin.
Also, leadership isn't loud or boastful. Certainly, leadership often involves speaking up at the right time and for the right reasons, but more often it involves setting an example. Indeed, in my opinion a good leader is almost always a good listener who, as Steven Covey famously said, seeks first to understand.
Effective leaders are constantly aware of the fact they are responsible and accountable. They must remember they have been put in a leadership situation precisely because it is a position of responsibility. It is an unfortunate sign of the times that we often see people in positions of influence trying to take all the credit while accepting none of the responsibility. A good leader does just the opposite.
One final point of emphasis. Even if I have "learned" these lessons, it doesn't mean I'm good at putting them into practice. In fact, I fail at that daily. But they remain aspirational and inspirational, and that is important at any age and any stage of your life.