Leadership lessons from some industry heavy weights

I have had the privilege of working with senior leadership teams on a national level with Boys and Girls Clubs of America; more locally with a Midwest public school system. We are lucky to have so many talented people working to develop their leadership capacity in order to create a strong and hopeful future for our kids.

I am, however, struck by the frequency with which I have heard people say they “had no idea” leadership was such hard work!

When Jeff Immelt succeeded Jack Welch at General Electric, he had big shoes to fill. People were hungry to know what he thought about leadership and how he was measuring up to huge market expectations.

In addressing an auditorium filled with MBA students at the University of Michigan, Immelt said “Leadership is an intense journey into the self. It starts with a constituency of one.”

He described the importance of understanding your core values, your particular strengths and limitations, your willingness and capacity for work, your ability to hear and accept feedback, and your desires for the future—for yourself and the people you love most. This is personal work that no one else can do. It takes time and a great deal of reflection; it forms the foundation from which every leadership action flows.

As a facilitator for the New York City Leadership Academy, I listened to Jack Welch admonish public school principals to develop the kind of deep-seated confidence that would allow them to work anywhere they wanted with people they admired and respected. When several principals told him they could not speak their minds or they would be fired, he replied, “If that’s how you work, you should be fired.”

His point: As a leader, you must develop your own strength and courage before you can even think about leading others.

John Gardner, renowned thinker, leader and prolific writer on the topics of excellence, leadership, self-renewal and organizational renewal, said that it is the particular burden of the leader to help other individuals determine their personal, social and moral identities. He believed that leaders inspire in part because of how they have resolved their own identity issues.

The structure, culture, and protocols of the non-profit and academic worlds are quite different from private sector business settings. But the challenges of leadership are the same. Leaders must develop their personal capacity in order to be strong enough to withstand opposition, curious enough about the world around them to be continually learning, eager enough to develop others to share their learning, and confident enough in their roles to make decisions and take action.

Come to think of it, parents as leaders of their families have the same challenges.

Leaders are highly visible standard bearers. This often means that their imperfections are probed, their ideas challenged, and their directives opposed. It takes a big person to withstand this kind of challenge.

Yes, leadership is hard work! Perhaps that is why we have so few true leaders and so many who profess to be.

Categories: Leadership

About Susan Marshall

founder susan marshall

Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.