You can’t major in leadership.

There are leadership courses and leadership seminars which can improve your abilities to delegate and manage strategies and teams on a high level, but there’s no real substitute for experience.

Some professionals go their entire lives without grasping the most important fundamentals of excellent leadership, while others seem to learn them almost immediately, with no explanation other than each leader having different experiences shaping them. 

Of course, it’s better to learn the fundamentals of leadership early on in your career — the earlier you learn them, the more time you’ll have to put them into practice and refine them through your professional progression. Unfortunately, there isn’t a list of simple rules that govern what separates good leaders from bad ones.

However, there are some basic lessons you’ll need to learn about leadership to get yourself moving in the right direction.

1. Finding the right people is the ultimate priority

You can’t do anything as a leader unless you have the people you need working under you and with you. It’s your responsibility to make sure a great team is in place. Only then can you begin delegating responsibilities, managing direction, and getting people to work better together. 

There’s no right or wrong way to build a team; it’s completely dependent on your goals, your strengths, and your weaknesses. But you need to find people that you can count on to execute specific responsibilities. They need to respect your position as a leader, but they also need to be comfortable enough to bring up their own opinions and use their own expertise to make decisions.

In the words of Ronald Reagan, “surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”

2. Mutual trust is essential

This tenet of leadership works tightly with the first. In order to accomplish anything, an air of mutual trust needs to be present. That means you need to trust your employees, your employees need to trust you, and your employees need to trust each other. 

The first step is to hire trustworthy people — people who are honest, open, and self-motivated enough to work for the good of the company. But beyond that, it’s your responsibility to create a culture and an atmosphere that encourages both honesty and co-dependence.

Allow your employees to express their opinions and air their grievances freely without fear of penalty, and don’t conceal your intentions. Admit mistakes, be transparent about your motivations, and reward your employees for their accomplishments.

These habits breed a sense of familiarity and trust, which will allow your team to work more efficiently — and be happier doing it. 


3. Adversity is a reality of leadership

This is a tough lesson to learn, and understanding the logic behind it on paper is much different than experiencing it firsthand.

As a leader, you’re going to go through some tough times. It doesn’t matter how effective you are, what kind of team you’re working with, or what conditions you enter.

You’re going to face some extremely tough days, and since you’re the leader, the brunt of the stress is going to fall on you.

You must be prepared for this eventuality. If you let the extra stress get to you, it’s going to take over and corrupt any chance you had at fixing the situation. Instead, you need to learn to view adversity as an opportunity.

If there’s a new challenge, consider it an opportunity to look at things from a new perspective. If you’ve made a mistake, consider it an opportunity to improve. Patience cannot be underestimated in these high-stress situations. 

4. Ideas must be grounded in pragmatism

As a leader, it’s natural to infuse your own idealism into your leadership style. If you have a vision for a company and for a culture, you want that vision to be executed perfectly. You want the perfect set of values dictating the actions of your workers, and you want only perfect products leaving your warehouse. 

Unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect, and some ideals simply aren’t possible to execute practically. As a leader, your ideas must be grounded in pragmatism, meaning instead of relying on your ideals to dictate your approach, you must consider how your ideals can be shaped to realistically fit into a practical world. 

5. You have never learned enough

The amount of information out there is infinite. There should never be a point when you, as a leader, decide that you have learned enough. There are always new ideas to consider, new strategies to try, or new events to digest, and without this continuous infusion of new perspectives and new data, your business and your team are going to become stagnant. 

Make it a point to constantly refine yourself. Attend seminars and lectures. Read books. Watch TEDTalks. Stay up on the news. Even if you’re busy, you have to make the time for this. Leaders with an insatiable hunger for more information are the most likely to come up with the revolutionary ideas that drive our culture forward. 

Put these lessons to work in the context of your own team, and gradually refine them to the point where they’re appropriate for your culture and your position. Only through your own experiences will you be able to fully craft yourself as an exceptional leader.

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