Becoming a Leader: My Top 3 List

Aaron Wolowiec put up a post on Acronym asking about the difference between a leader and a visionary and, more importantly, how you become one (kudos, by the way, to ASAE & The Center for putting a young professional on the blog, rather than just creating a group for young professionals who all get together and wait collectively for the time they can actually get involved!). I don't care so much about the semantic debate about leader, manager, and visionary, but it did get me thinking about how to develop individual leadership capacity. So I came up with a top three list of things people should do who want to be better leaders:

1. Know yourself
Aaron mentioned self assessments like Myers Briggs and others. Take those self-assessments
very seriously and work your whole career to get detailed feedback from
colleagues about what impact you have on people. This relates to the "are leaders born or made" question. We all do have personal styles and preferences, but if you know them, then anyone can be effective in leadership. Bottom line: individuals with exceptional leadership
capacity know themselves very well.

2. Understand systems
Learn about other departments. Seek out
cross-functional teams. Request work details in other areas. Heck, have lunch with people who do things other than what you do and be curious. And study up on
systems generally. It's not just the details of your system, it's also
the dynamics that happen in every system. Two must-reads in this department: Peter Senge's Fifth Discipline and Barry Oshry's Seeing Systems.

3. Learn communication
I mean learning how to communicate at a very deep level. It's the glue
that holds "leadership" together. Having a vision (even better: understanding a shared vision) doesn't get you very
far if nobody understands you or you can't engage the right
stakeholders. This overlaps with knowing yourself, frankly, but there are some very basic skills in asking questions, testing assumptions, giving feedback, and emotional intelligence that are critical to communicating in ways that actually increase your organization's capacity.


  1. 10.04.2009 at 12:06 pm

    I think you miss a key area – people led by a leader. Know your team, their strengths and weaknesses, find out what they believe in and what they’re afraid of. Then show your competence in the most important areas. This will make them follow you.
    Actually when I was thinking what differentiates managers from true leaders I focused on relations and communication with the team.

  2. 10.04.2009 at 5:53 pm

    Great post Jamie! I’ve added my thoughts on this topic in a new post at …let me know what you think!

  3. 11.04.2009 at 1:13 am

    The list could be huge — what we expect of ourselves and others. I gave it some thought and came up with my three “demands” for leadership –

  4. 15.04.2009 at 6:33 pm

    Excellent post! I too feel I must weigh in on this topic. I’ve added my thoughts on the brand new Culture Matters (KeyStone Search)blog. This is actually my very first post, so go easy on me!