Becoming a Leader | Becoming Yourself

The older I get, the more I realize that just because someone has an important job or leadership role doesn't necessarily mean that they do it responsibly, or are even good at it. Integrity and proficiency are not a given. Really exceptional leaders “walk the talk” and let their expertise inspire others to follow their lead.

Leadership success is not due to luck or tenure. Your life is far too valuable and important, and should not be wasted by leaving it to chance. Your success depends very much on your ability to be consistent in practicing self-discipline and determination, and having the right attitude for leadership. You owe it to yourself to take full responsibility to develop a personal vision for your future success, and be in complete control of your own destiny.  Doing so will also give you all the essential tools to become an inspiring and impactful leader.

Ultimately, your ability to lead others begins with yourself. But what does it mean to be prepared to lead?  Real leadership proficiency is about building depth and breadth in your field of work or study. It means knowing the finer details of your specialty while also understanding its broader applicability. It means understanding the individuals around you and recognizing their potential. In simple terms, it is earning your master's degree, and possibly PhD, in what you do.   Here are 5 key things you can do to build your own leadership proficiency:

1.  Cultivate an Open Mind | First, being prepared to lead means you must become a leader who is grounded in your values but have an open mind to new models, new ideas, new points of view. An open mind creates phenomenal results. Most people feel respected, honored, and uplifted by an open mind. A great leader is usually not, and does not want to be, the smartest person in the room.  Great leaders surround themselves with individuals that have more experience and ideas in their areas of expertise than the leader. All of these experts, when led by the right person, can be an unstoppable force in driving strategy, building culture, making change and enhancing the financial performance of the company.  When you remember that your vision, understanding, and experience gains momentum with a team’s perspective, you are more likely to respect their input and collaboration. Your plans become better when you build proficiency from this awareness.

2.  Develop Emotional Maturity | Second, being prepared to lead means being emotionally mature. Emotionally mature leaders take full responsibility for self - they think without reacting. When a crisis or challenge occurs in a mature leader's business or family, the leader looks for their own part in it while carefully considering, without accusation, the parts others are playing. Taking responsibility requires exceptional self-awareness. More immature leaders tend toward shallow thinking, impulsive decisions and superficial conversations. It's not simply that they don't know themselves; it's that they don't think about knowing themselves. In contrast, emotionally mature leaders work diligently and continuously on self-awareness.  At decision time, mature leaders value principles over feelings and progress over comfort. When they make a mistake, they acknowledge it without fanfare and move on.

3.  Become Intellectually Curious  | Exceptional leaders are intellectually curious and always ?alert to opportunities. Curiosity fuels the grand “what if.”  By being curious, you are open to new ideas, challenges and ways of doing things. This constant seeking of knowledge and better ways to achieve your goals makes innovation happen. Remember that much of leadership is all about organizing others to achieve a common goal. The curious leader uncovers innovative ways to motivate people, use technology, endure through struggle and learn from others.  Being intellectually curious means you seek knowledge of a person, thing or situation at a deeper level. By being intellectually curious, you read, experience and interact more with your subject.

3. Set Milestones | In order to take a project or organization to success, leaders must break down long-term goals into timely, digestible, and definable segments. These segments (Milestones) will help create a detailed roadmap that aligns the day-to-day activities of your organization with the overarching mandates of your strategy. Your team must be aware of these milestones and exactly what it takes to make it to each one. Business milestones are like checkpoints for leaders, signaling that the business is thriving and growing. Milestones are the events that occur on the way toward achieving the desired end results or goals. Milestones become markers for celebration. They memorialize moments in time that build a sense of teamwork and accomplishment. Achieving and celebrating a milestone makes the work worthwhile. They can be short-term or long-term and can be easily achievable or challenging. Developing milestones for your business requires some time and effort, but it is an invaluable exercise, especially if your business is new.

4. Engage in Mentorship | The word mentor literally means “wise advisor” and is taken from Homer’s Odyssey where the character Mentor served as a trusted friend to the story’s protagonist. While some might say great leaders are born leaders, the majority of executives have worked hard to learn the leadership skills that truly empower them. One of the most effective methods of developing leadership skills is through mentoring.  A great mentor can give you benefit of his or her perspective and experience, help you look at situations in new ways, and ask the hard questions that help you solve real problems.  A great mentoring relationship also brings personal accountability so you don’t lose focus. Finally, a mentor can be a great sounding board for so many issues – from ethical dilemmas to insights on new career opportunities. Be sure to select a mentor who is wise in your chosen area of focus. When approaching your preferred mentor, remember to list specific reasons why you chose them and why you feel as though you could benefit from their experience and wisdom. Schedule mentorship meetings at least once a quarter – you’ll be amazed at how much you will grow! 

5. Become a Teacher | Once you have mastered a skill it only makes sense that you would share that knowledge with others. To do so, contact a local school, library, civic or professional organization and offer to share your expertise in a formal setting, free of charge. Teaching always unearths gaps in your own understanding and knowledge.  Teaching allows you to see the problem in a new light through the eyes of your pupils.  It also refines your communication skills – it’s one thing for you to understand an objective or task, it’s quite another to be able to explain it to others in a way that fosters engagement and learning. The ultimate job of most CEOs involves teaching and coaching – it’s an acquired skill that requires significant practice.


In life, leaders are not necessarily the highest-ranking person or the one who holds the most impressive job title. A leader is someone whose actions have placed them in a position of trust and authority among their peers. A leader is one whose advice is sought frequently, but never forcefully pushed onto others. A leader is someone whose spirit and desire for excellence eclipses that of everyone else around him. A leader sees the value in others, and inspires each person to perform their best, many times helping them to exceed even their own expectations. A leader is also able to teach, to convey both physical skills and moral characteristics to those around him, and inspires those people to mimic him in his behaviors and attitudes.

Becoming a leader isn’t an easy task – just as becoming a physician or physicist isn’t easy.   Those who claim otherwise are simply fooling themselves.  But learning to lead is a lot easier than most of us think – because each of us has the capacity for leadership.  Anyone can be a leader – after all, it is all in the commitment to learning, ones emotional maturity, and the attitude with which one chooses to carry him/herself.

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Dr. Michael Burcham: Legendary Health Care Executive and Industry Leading Entrepreneur

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