Which comes first? Position or preparation?
When I meet people in social settings and they ask me what I do for a living, some of them are intrigued when I say I write books and speak. And they often ask what I write about. When I say leadership, the response that makes me chuckle most goes something like this: “Oh. Well, when I become a leader, I’ll read some of your books.” What I don’t say (but want to) is: “If you’d read some of my books, maybe you’d become a leader.”
Good leadership is learned in the trenches. Leading as well as they can wherever they are is what prepares leaders for more and greater responsibility. Becoming a good leader is a lifelong learning process. If you don’t try out your leadership skills and decision-making process when the stakes are small and the risks are low, you’re likely to get into trouble at higher levels when the cost of mistakes is high, the impact is far reaching, and the exposure is greater. Mistakes made on a small scale can be easily overcome. Mistakes made when you’re at the top can cost the organization greatly, and they damage a leader’s credibility.
How do you become the person you desire to be? You start now to adopt the thinking, learn the skills, and develop the habits of the person you wish to be. It’s a mistake to daydream about “one day” when you’ll be on top, instead of handling today so that it prepares you for tomorrow. As Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden said, “When opportunity comes it’s too late to prepare.” If you want to be a successful leader, learn to lead BEFORE you have a leadership position.
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