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The Leadership Journey: 5 Things To Pack For The Road

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at July 29, 2021

When you buy apples at a grocery store, you are probably not thinking about the apple seed-to-fruit journey. Depending on the apple species, it can take five to eight years for an apple tree to bear fruits. The apple seed-to-fruit journey is a reminder that leadership doesn’t happen overnight. Becoming a great leader is a lifelong journey. It is tempting to fixate on the apple—perks of success and leadership versus the journey— failures, lessons, and sacrifices along the way. Focusing on the destination creates the illusion that success is the end goal. In reality, it is the outcome of navigating a successful journey. 

In planning for any successful journey, it is essential to identify the purpose of the trip, what you want to do, the experiences you want to have, and then use these information to decide a destination that will deliver the highest return on your investment. Your destination will determine how you prepare, what you pack in your suitcase, what roads you say yes or no to, and the types of people you want to bring along on the journey. 

Regardless of where you are on your leadership journey, from early phases to working on your legacy, you need to know where you want to go, what you want to get out of it, and what you want to get out of it. These answers are essential because they reflect your purpose, core values, what energizes you, and your contributions to the world. Below are five things to pack for the road as you embark or continue on your leadership journey: 

1. Travel Light: According to Matt Fitzgerald, author of Racing Weight, endurance athletes avoid carrying extra weight—extra pounds waste energy and impacts peak performance. Similarly, great leaders travel light. It is unavoidable that people will hurt and disappoint you. Decide not to carry the weight of unforgiveness, malice,  vengeance, or anything that can entangle and slow you down. Also, if you’re going to go far on your leadership journey, you can’t afford to drag the past along with you. Let it go. What stories are you telling yourself that do not serve your interests? What beliefs do you need to let go of to become the leader you want to be?

2. Define and articulate your leadership philosophy: Mother Teresa’s mission was to help the poor and oppressed. Mahatma Gandhi fought for India’s independence through his nonviolent philosophy of passive resistance. Martin Luther King Jr. was a prominent civil rights movement leader. Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years because he fought to end apartheid in South Africa. These leaders still impact us today because they defined and articulated their leadership philosophies—beliefs, values, and a sense of purpose.

Defining and articulating your leadership philosophy is your invitation to the types of leaders that will successfully translate your vision into reality. As the famous saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. Eagles associate with eagles because they are the only birds that fly at that high altitude. If you view yourself as an eagle, but pigeons surround you, check your flying altitude.

Without a clear and well-articulated leadership philosophy, you will become everything to everybody—a recipe for mediocrity. What is your mission? Is it aligned with your core values? Are you pursuing something that gives your life meaning? Defining your leadership  philosophy is the beginning of your leadership journey

3. Count the cost: All that glitters isn’t gold. Leadership goes beyond having a title or position. Leadership is a verb. You become a leader by doing—getting into the arena, getting your hands dirty, and helping others along the way. In reality, many people want the perks of leadership without the responsibility that comes with it. 

Becoming a leader has a cost. You have to put your people first—admit your mistakes, take responsibility when things go wrong, sacrifice your agenda, and let go of the people who refuse to grow so that the team can succeed. In the wise words of  John D. Rockefeller, “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” For Mandela, it meant spending 27 years of his life in prison so that his country’s citizens could be free. What are you willing to give up to become the leader you want to be. Understanding the cost of leadership will increase your resiliency and spare you frustrations down the road.  

4. Check your passenger list: According to a Nigerian Proverb, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk with the village.” Great leaders never walk alone. They understand that a one-person show is not scalable. Instead, great leaders are intentional and selective in surrounding themselves with seven people who add and create value. The bottom line, leadership is a teams sport.

The Leadership journey is like a marathon, and your co-passengers will influence whether you enjoy or endure your journey. You can’t be a successful leader if you don’t have a successor. You won’t have a successor if you do not intentionally build relationships and invest in the next-level leaders. As the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If you were to go on a one-year sabbatical today, do you have three people that can sustain and increase momentum in your absence?

5. Begin with the end in mind:   Mediocre leaders use busyness as an excuse not to pause and reflect on their journey. So they miss out on opportunities to transform their learnings into valuable insights that accelerate their growth and development. This begs whether leaders are using relevant metrics to determine their growth, and the future of their organizations. How do you measure success? Are you measuring the right things? Is experimenting, risk taking, and failing part of your success criteria? The future of your organization depends on what you are measuring.

Bronnie Ware, the international bestselling author of “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” shared that the top regret people had on their death bed was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” It is a reminder that success is more than the material things–your accomplishments, status, zip code, or account balance.  Are you investing in the most important relationships in your life? Are you investing in the next generation of leaders? Are you creating membership? Imagine what your life would be like if you measured your success by becoming who you are and not what others expect of you? What have you always wanted to do but haven’t done yet? What are you going to do about it? 

Closing Thoughts:  Becoming a great leader does not happen overnight. Transforming your learnings into valuable insights and action along your journey is what makes leaders great. David Viscott, author and psychologist, summarizes the essence of the leadership journey, “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.”

This week, find some time to reflect on the following questions: (1) Where am I headed? (2) What do I want to be remembered for?  (3) What stories or beliefs am I holding onto that are not serving my interests? (4) What is my leadership philosophy? (5) Am I investing in the most important relationships in my life? (6) What am I willing to give up to become the leader I want to be? (7) Do I have people in my life who can hold me accountable?

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