In the last five years that I have been writing this column on leaders, I have had the incredible opportunity to visit with leaders from around the state of Mississippi. I have been challenged and inspired by their stories. Each week I try to pass along the tips and wisdom I learn from these leaders. As readers have probably noted, I try to focus on at least one big idea that came from the interview.

When I talk with prospective interviewees, I emphasize that the purpose of this column is to inspire and motivate other leaders around the state. I do this because I believe leadership matters – in a big way. It is hard to understate the importance of leadership in an organization. Unfortunately, we talk about leadership so much in the business community we can sometimes take it for granted. However, as Dr. John Maxwell said, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.” The longer I live, the more I believe this to be true. Below are just a few of the big ideas that I have seen as recurring themes in my study of outstanding leaders.

Leaders Lead


Martin Willoughby

While this is stating the obvious, the point is that leaders take initiative. They don’t wait for a title. They see a need and act on it.
When the call goes out for help, they are the first to raise their hand. Leadership is about serving. There are countless ways in every organization to step up and serve. True leaders are servant leaders and are not in it for their own glory. For those wanting to rise in their leadership, I encourage you to begin today by seeking ways to contribute and add value. Titles will follow – leadership can begin immediately.

Leaders Know Themselves

The ancient Greeks used to emphasize the importance to “Know Thyself.” One of the key aspects I have noticed about effective leaders is that they know who they are. They are comfortable in their own skin and have a quiet confidence. They know their strengths and weaknesses and know how to play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. They are self-aware. Effective leaders don’t waste time trying to be something they are not. Authentic leadership comes from the heart. People follow that kind of leader.

Leaders Lead Themselves

Former IBM Chairman and CEO Thomas J. Watson Sr. noted, “Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself.” Similarly, Dr. Maxwell pointed out, “Learning to lead yourself well is one of the most important things you’ll ever do as a leader.” It is easy to think about leadership in terms of leading others.

While that is certainly important, true leaders begin by effectively leading themselves. They realize that they must continually be growing as a leader if they are to be effective. True leaders know they need to take care of themselves physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. They are continual learners. Allowing yourself to become burned out does not help the cause of your organization. I believe that leaders who develop a lifelong commitment to growth and proper boundaries are the best suited to make a difference for the long haul.

I hope a few of these leadership lessons I have learned from my interviews will be an encouragement to you in your own leadership journey. Leadership is a journey, not a destination. May your journey continue to be a great one! I will continue to share leadership insights from outstanding leaders as we continue this journey together.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, June 13, 2014.]
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