10 Leadership Lessons by Mark Wager

10 Leadership Lessons by Mark Wager

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10 Leadership Lessons

By Mark Wager

Nearly twenty five years ago I started my career as a Manager in a Shoe Shop in the United Kingdom in  Birmingham to be precise. A few years later I packed my bags, moved to London and started working in a Finance House where I became a Broker Sales Manager. Then onto the Public service and finally my own consultancy here in New Zealand. Looking back, it was quite a journey but to be honest my journey as a leader began when I was a four year old after reading a comic. "The Flash" was about a hero who could run at amazing speeds to such a degree that he could run over an ocean because he was so fast. This fascinated me immensely. I thought to myself that if only I can run fast enough, I could fly and no longer would I have to wait to be driven everywhere.  All I had to do was run fast enough to be able to fly. The next day  I ran to school with the comic tightly held in my hand. I needed to share the news with the rest of the class and as soon as the bell went for our morning break I lead the group to the top of the playground steps and one by one starting with me, we ran as fast as we could along the broad railing with the objective of jumping off the edge to see if we  could fly. To my surprise none of us could fly and the teacher was horrified to see a pile of four year old boys (the girls weren't  so easily convinced) lying on top of each other writhing in agony as one by one we landed on the concrete floor completely flightless. There I was a four year old leader communicating, inspiring and influencing those around me to try to achieve a common objective.  Unfortunately the objective was unrealistic but nonetheless  it was my first experience and lesson as a leader – communicate with passion and people will be willing to believe. Since that day I’ve learnt many more lessons on my journey as a leader many of which I would like to share with you now and no I never did learn how to fly.

Lesson 1: Leadership is remembering that it is never about you

When I started out in retail,  the position of manager was attractive to me because of the perceived authority, power and glamour. Back then I didn’t know the difference between being a manager and being a leader but retail is training ground and I soon learnt that management is a position but being a leader is something much more and selfishness has no place in leadership. It is about the greater need and sometimes that will be different to your individual need. If I could sum up leadership in one word then it would be “Sacrifice”

Lesson 2: Leadership is about influencing people, management is about control and responsibility

I’m surprised that even today people still confuse the two disciplines. Management is specific to a position and is about the responsibility and control over people and resources in order to achieve an objective while leadership is not restricted to a position. Anyone can be a leader and it is about influencing those around you in order to achieve an objective. If you are not sure which one you are then ask yourself would people do what you asked them to do if you weren’t their boss?

Lesson 3: Leaders are not born they are made.

This is beyond an opinion and is now an undisputed fact supported by years of research. If you think otherwise then there is a horse waiting outside your office waiting to take you back to the 19th century. Leadership is a series of behaviours and skills and while some people will be more naturally adept to some of these behaviours and skills they are ultimately able to be learnt.

Lesson 4: Leadership starts with self-awareness

Before a leader can consider leading anyone they have to be able to lead themselves first.  Leadership is influence and influence primarily comes from your behaviours which come from the type of person the leader is. A Leader needs to be aware of how they react to situations, how they communicate, how they receive information. If they can’t understand themselves then how on earth are they going to be able to understand other people.

Lesson 5: Every leader is unique

Every leader is different some are loud some are quiet some appear distant while others act like they are your best friend. There is no template to what leader you should be. When I started out at 18 I was quiet, shy, with very little education and a speech defect, not exactly a great description of a leader but I knew inside that I had the potential to be one and I searched and searched for what type of leader I should be but it was only when I started searching within myself that I found the type of leader that I was always meant to be.

Lesson 6: Leadership is as much technical as it is philosophical

While leadership is a journey of self awareness there is also a lot of technical skills that have to be learnt especially in regards to communication and motivation. This is commonly overlooked and when you discuss leadership the conversation is always positive and mostly around personal qualities such as honesty, courage etc, you never hear people say that being a good person is a bad thing. In the middle of this positive behaviour sometimes the technical skills every leader needs gets lost.The ability to adapt communication, to handle conflict situations all of which your personal qualities will only get you so far, technique will get you the rest of the way.

Lesson 7: A Leader knows that there are very few limitations

The only thing scarier than realising that main message from the mountains of self-help books  that we all have the potential to make our dreams come true is actually  the look in the eyes of someone who is unaware of their potential. The reason why so many people don’t believe this is that the realisation that their shortcomings whether they are in the workplace or in relationships in their life are most likely their own fault is a very scary and difficult reality to accept. Anything can be achieved. All you need is the talent and passion, the only things that separates the people who live their dreams and the ones that don’t is the desire to make the sacrifices necessary to turn dreams into reality  

Lesson 8: Leadership can be a lonely place

A painful lesson that most experienced leaders learn is that the constant need to put the greater need ahead of your own and the daily process of being the person that people need you to be can wear you down. Be careful it is in these moments that weaknesses of character are exposed and leaders fall from grace. Never forget why you are a leader. You are not a leader because of a position given to you, you are only a leader because of one reason and that is people are willing to follow you.  Without those people you are just a single person with an opinion, no matter how  you feel or how much you are hurting inside, you only exist as a leader because people believe in you. Lose that and you lose everything.

Lesson 9: The true test of a leader is the legacy they leave behind

I remember reading a leadership book by a former navy seal who asked if you were the type of leader who wouldn’t take leave because the organisation was too busy and you were worried that people couldn’t cope without you.  He then went on to say that if you answered yes then you weren’t a leader, you were an egotistical son of a b*tch! Maybe the lesson should be don’t argue with a navy seal. The true test of any leader is what happens when they are not there. The ultimate objective of any leader is not a pleasant one and that is for the team to reach a stage that the leader is no longer needed.

Lesson 10: The journey of a true leader never ends

There are many more lessons and I may follow up in a future article but for this article right here and right now I will end with the message that a leader never stops learning, while they will always be a teacher they should never stop being a student. So no matter how many lessons you learn or even how many you teach you should never stop evolving so go forward open your eyes and see what other lessons the world has for you and become the leader you were always meant to be.

About the Author:

Mark Wager is an international author and is one of New Zealand's leadin Leadership mentors. To contact Mark regardin how to be a better leader please use the enquiry form below

Posted: Monday 4 November 2013


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