Ten Things I’ve Learned About Life from Leadership – Part 1

As a student studying leadership, I find all these nuggets of wisdom that I wish I had been carrying in my pocket for my whole life. Lucky me, I’m only 26 and I feel like I have learned a lot, so I want to share ten of the best things I have learned so far in this life. Here are the first five.

INQUIRE INSTEAD OF ADVOCATE.

Example: We assume that Zambians and other third world nations need shoes, so we support brands like Tom’s (not that this organization isn’t good). But instead of shoes, what people really need is access to clean water or healthcare, because without them, regardless of how their feet are outfitted, their life is at risk, their villages are infested with worms, or they can’t afford NOT to breastfeed so they pass AIDS along through their babies.*

If we arrived in these places, at work or in a foreign country, and asked questions instead of assuming and advocating, our transformational power would be large. If we followed an approach of accompaniment from the shoulder to shoulder approach, rather than the great omniscient power of ‘knowledge,’ what differences could we make in our relationships, families, organizations, and in the world?

Rather than, from the outside, *assuming* we know what people need, why not inquire? Simply ask, “How can I be helping you?” or, for at least this Christian lady, “How can I be praying for you?”

(*These are the things I witnessed with my own eyes. The examples are not meant true in every village or town in every developing nation, nor are they meant to be all-encompassing).

WE ALL NEED TO LEARN AND PRACTICE LISTENING SKILLS. YES, ALL OF US.

Just twenty four months ago, I would have said one of my greatest skills is listening, and while that is true in some cases, I was challenged and changed in my practice of listening because I was listening for a purpose – to remember what someone told me, to better connect with people, to do something beneficial for myself. 

It was transactional: If I listen, then I will have something to remember about this person for a later interaction. Often, this helps build relationships because it allows the other person to feel heard and known, but that’s not what listening should be.

Rather, listening is largely a supporting role, holding up the person doing the speaking. Listening requires us to say, “What I heard you say is…” and following up listening with more silence to allow the speaker time to come to their own conclusions. It is a choice we make to be a sounding board for others, in order for them to see what they are experiencing in a reflection of us.

Next time you think you are utilizing your ears to the best of your ability, stop whatever you are doing wherever you are, set a five minute timer, and make a list of all the things you hear. At the end of the time, notice how many of those things you had tuned out in order to listening to your own thoughts or get into your own head. When I participate in this activity, my list is often pretty long.

SELF-REFLECTION IS IMPORTANT FOR ALL PEOPLE, BUT ESPECIALLY LEADERS.

THIS ONE THOUGH. Self-reflection is so important for us to learn from our past experiences, and especially to build on these experiences. Reflecting, and recording those reflections, can be as simple as writing for 5-10 minutes after you encounter something that moves you, whether you become extremely happy, angry, confused, or anything in between regarding the situation. [Also, it’s really fun to go back and read through those thoughts days, weeks, or months later].

WE CAN SEE THINGS, BUT WE CAN ALSO SEE THEM AGAIN.

It’s called See, and See Again. It’s a creative outlet and a challenge to those of us who get stuck in our ways of seeing to practice looking at things in a different light.

It can be seeing again a hard conversation you need to have [see Krystal’s reflection on having hard conversations here].

It can also be the way in which you physically see something, like the way I thought my shower curtain in my single lady apartment looked like ocean waves until one day I saw bears.

It can be a frame of mind, where you thought a conversation went one way but left you confused because your friend or colleague responded differently than you imagined. Go back, look again, and see what might have gone wrong. With humility and grace in your heart, have another conversation and attempt to see things from another person’s perspective. See it again.

WE ALL NEED UNBIASED MENTORS.

While it is important to build relationships with people in your career path, it is also important to build solid relationships with people who are not impacted by your decisions, and who genuinely want you to follow your heart in decision-making.

We all need at least one person, who is not a partner or best friend, to help us reflect on the callings in our lives and making decisions as we navigate the crazy complex world. This person needs to be genuinely interested in seeing you succeed, regardless of where that choice takes you, how it impacts your relationship, and even if the advice is hard to give.

The other struggle with this aspect is trust. We have to trust that these people in our lives are only trying to help, and take their advice with a unique understanding of the true meaning of friendship, loyalty, and honesty. In this world, I am filled with so many doubts and tend to question the motives of other people, but if we all had one person that never made us question how much they love us in their pursuit of helping us succeed, the world would be an entirely different place. So, an extra piece of advice is, be this person to someone else, because once you realize how important this person is in your life, you will want to give that gift back to someone else.


Part 2 will be coming soon, but if you are wondering about my journey through the Organizational Leadership Master’s program at Gonzaga University, check out my [still under development] blog here.

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