As a leader, I’ve had my share of upbeats and beat-downs. Through them all, I’ve picked up some leadership nuggets I’ve learned the hard way. Here are ten of them. If you’re a leader, I hope my mistakes and successes help you.

1. If you’re not willing to clean a toilet, you shouldn’t be a leader.

The notion that you’re too good for something (or someone) makes you a weak leader. A leader is someone who has the humility and drive to do whatever it takes to make sure the goal is achieved. When you set that kind of example, other leaders will, too.  As the greatest leader of all-time revealed, “The greatest among you must be your servant.”

2. Making wise decisions is at the heart of leadership.

As a leader, you will need more wisdom than you can possibly imagine. I once heard wisdom described as “knowledge with scars.” That’s so true. When making a call to turn left or right, to say yes or no, to go for it or wait, seek counsel, hear all sides, and do the wise thing.

3. Trying to make everyone happy is a sure-fire way to make no one happy.

You will have to make tough decisions that won’t be popular. But if you make decisions based on what everyone wants, you will be in a world of hurt. Why? Because the masses aren’t always right. Remember what you’re Momma taught you, “Just because everyone else is doing it…”  The right thing to do is often not the popular thing to do.

4. If you aren’t fully invested, no one else will be either.

There’s nothing worse than following a half-hearted leader who is going through the motions. Eventually, other leaders will fill the void and pull your team in many different directions, creating conflict. Or it creates a “who gives a rip” mentality. In which case, it’s better to stay at home and watch reruns of Saved by the Bell before you do any more damage.

5. Not all leaders are power-hungry tyrants.

We live in a culture that is suspicious of all leaders. Bad ones do exist, but most leaders are well-meaning folks just trying to do the right thing, the right way, with the right people. Pointing a finger at them does no good. Connect with them. Learn from them. Encourage them. They need it. And if you’re worried they will turn into power-hungry tyrants, don’t. Those kind of leaders are rare and don’t last forever. Just ask Ghadaffi.

6. A title doesn’t make you a leader.

Leaders aren’t designated; they emerge. If you need a title to make you a leader, you will have insecurity issues and fail to win the heart of a team. Don’t let that be you. Lead where you are, and when you’re finally in a position of influence, you will be ready for it. As Seth Godin says, “Managers want authority. Leaders take responsibility.”

7. All leaders need heroes, friends, and grasshoppers.

No leader should lead alone!

You need mentors. You need to learn from pioneers who have paved the way and have the scars to prove it.

You also need running mates who are beside you, encourage you, and vice versa.

And you need to pass on what you’re learning to someone else (a grasshopper). You should invest yourself in the development of future leaders, perhaps even your replacement. That’s a mark of a great leader.

8. Vision really does matter.

Vision is a picture of where you’re going. Without it, everybody guesses. Without it, all decisions end with a question mark. Without it, you’re just wasting gas on a road trip to nowhere.

9. You suck at something.

If you’re a confident leader, you will not only have a strong sense of where you’re gifted at, but also a realistic knowledge of where you’re not. If you’re a confident leader, you will learn to pass those responsibilities on to someone who is. Sadly, insecure leaders think the sun rises and falls on them, and their mission and team suffers because of they are pigheaded. Make your life and leadership better by giving those areas of weakness away.

10. Your inputs should outweigh your outputs.

Most leaders push the pedal to the metal, never paying attention to the fuel gage. They go and go and go until the gas runs out. Suddenly, they’re stranded and find themselves walking miles to the nearest gas station to get a refill. What a waste of time!

Wise leaders rarely let their levels get near empty. They know to fill up frequently in order to avoid being stranded. Even if they feel like they don’t need it. As a result, they go further and enjoy the journey much more than the frustrated leaders they drive by on the road to their destination.

It’s important to rest, create margin, and avoid over-stuffing your life. There’s a better, much healthier way.

Sadly, I had to learn it the hard way.

AUTHOR: Jason started and lead a movement of Difference Makers called Project Church, headed up a Training & Development department for a large credit union, was the director of Organizational Development in a Fortune 500, served in the U.S. Air Force, studied Social Science in college, As a speaker, he has shared over a thousand messages to diverse audiences, and is currently working on a screenplay.

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