One of the common denominators of leaders is that they are life-long learners. In Robert Clinton’s extensive study of over 600 leaders, he noted that a “continual desire to learn” was the most common characteristic.
One of the last things John F. Kennedy ever said was “learning and leadership are inseparable from one another.” One of the greatest leaders of our time, Nelson Mandela, stated in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from one another.”
But the question I get asked most often is, where to begin? If a person wants to build their leadership competencies, where do you start? Of course, one of the best ways to start is to have a good leadership mentor. If they are in short supply, then studying leadership is the best way ahead.
I would like to suggest seven books that could be used to provide a framework for understanding how leadership skills to be developed. A serious student would probably want to start with the original leadership guru himself, James MacGregor Burns. His book, Leadership, is generally recognized as the book that established the leadership genre. In this book he recognized that true leadership was “transformational.”
Unfortunately, Burns was not as effective in identifying what “transformation” meant. The leadership expert who provides some of the most practical advice is Warren Bennis. His books, On Becoming a Leader and Why Leaders Can’t Lead are classics.
Another writer who is quite popular is John Maxwell. His book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, is very practical and widely quoted. The difficulty with the book is that it is almost impossible to remember twenty-one laws!
Theory is difficult to understand without examples. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill are tough to match. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals is a much discussed book on Lincoln that was also the basis for Stephen Spielberg’s recent film. Paul Johnson is one of the greatest living historians, and his book Churchill is an excellent overview of this remarkable leader.
The last book I would like to refer is my own, Ideal Leadership: Time for a Change. In this book I present my own leadership model; four leadership conditions necessary for a person to lead given the opportunity to lead, and six leadership competencies which constitute a leader’s capital. The strength of the conditions and capital determine a leader’s possibilities for success.
In subsequent posts, I will give references on how to develop each of these six competencies. As I tell everyone, keep learning as you keep leading!