When I spoke at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point recently, I was the one who walked away inspired, having gained some incredible life insights, which I wrote about in last week’s blog. In addition, I was invited to be a guest lecturer, where I shared with cadets the habits of some great leaders—coaches and executives—I’ve worked with in the past.
So, from West Point to you, here are those six leadership lessons:
1. You can’t lead people you don’t know.
As a leader, it is important to know your colleagues on a level beyond the workplace. In the case of a West Point cadet, they told me, this simple notion could actually save lives by having a deeper sense of each other’s health, safety, fears and motivations. No matter your occupation, this lesson is essential in building camaraderie and trust within a team.
2.You have to lead the team you have, not the team you want.
There isn’t a coach in the NFL who wouldn’t like to have Tom Brady or Peyton Manning as their quarterback—but only two coaches actually do. The other coaches have to work with the team (and the quarterback) that they have. So quit thinking about the advantages others have and build your own! We should look for opportunities to grow our own team to reach its maximum potential because the grass is not always greener on the other side.
3. There is no success without a successor.
You have to constantly be invested in the training of other people. Be mindful of opportunities to teach those under your leadership. Great leaders know the value of sharing their own wisdom, strengths and weaknesses with others. If you desire to lead others, then you should also strive to create successors. It is your responsibility to not let the knowledge and experience you have gained over the years to be lost when your time in service is complete.
4. You need to have a mentor and also be a mentor.
The importance in establishing relationships with mentorsis that they allow you to grow, and these relationships will one day lead you to play a part in the growth of others. These moments are often informal, and they are often not listed on checklists for success. But we need to be well-prepared to learn the most we can from these opportunities for meaningful engagement with those who have paved the road for us.
5. You have to be a lifelong learner.
If you want to be a successful leader, you have to pursue opportunities to learn. Be a sponge and constantly soak up ideas, lessons and stories from others that you believe can impact you. Great leaders know that there is always something more to learn. “It is what you learn after you know it all that counts,” is one of my favorite John Wooden quotes.
6. Storytelling holds power in leadership.
If you want to be a leader, you have to learn how to tell your story. The best storytellers always win. I reminded the cadets that less than a hundred miles south of West Point there were men who flew airplanes into buildings a few years ago because someone told them a story of bitterness and blame that they believed, and their choices and ideology were affected as a result. This example was a little graphic, but the cadets immediately understood it. I challenged them to use their own story to inspire others toward positive action and meaningful growth.
The opportunity to connect with the cadets at West Point left me with an incredible sense of gratitude. They have chosen sacrifice and selfless service. If they are our future, we are all in great hands.