Leadership is a journey not a destination


In one of my Organizational Psychology classes last week, my Industrial Engineering students and I were talking about Leadership and Management. In order to encourage the discussion, I asked them 3 main questions that would help them to share what they already know about leadership, but maybe haven’t talked about yet:

1) What are the main characteristics you see in a leader?

2) Even if you were not in a leadership positon at work, should you care to develop leadership qualities? Why?

3) Do you think you should grow as a leader besides your work context? Why?

My students gave answers ranging from good to excellent.

What about you? Have you ever asked yourself similar question? When I was younger and worked in a supervisor role on my first job, I didn’t ask myself those kinds of questions.  Instead, I tried to become a good supervisor by trying to do exactly the same functions and responsibilities as those written on the supervisor job description, but never occurred to me that I should also develop leadership skills.

1) What do you see in a leader? My students mentioned several characteristics such as:  good communication skills, planning skills, innovative thinking, charisma, emotional intelligence, responsibility, punctuality. A leader is someone who is visionary, goal oriented, democratic, fair, and team oriented; someone who motivates, takes risks, makes decisions and never stops learning and stays up to date on many topics, at least those related to the industry he or she works in.

Then one of my students spontaneously said that a good example of a leader is Nelson Mandela.
I was standing and listening, and as I heard that I did jump a little and said:

YES!, well, for me, he is the leader that I admire the most.  Why do you think Mandela is a good example? 


Mandela always stuck to his principles and never backed down. Also he cared a lot about education.


We share the same reasons why we admire Mandela so much! I specially admire in Mandela that he stuck to the ideal that forgiveness would allow his country to achieve freedom and democracy.  He turned that ideal into reality.  That’s a leader!

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

― Nelson Mandela

2)  Even if you were not in a leadership positon at work, should you care to develop leadership qualities? Why? Although it might be obvious that the answer would be “yes”, it’s not obvious that these young adults think about it as much as they should…  should you?  So, they said definitely yes, because even if you are not a Manager, Supervisor or Team Leader, you have to make decisions that make an impact on the organization, you have to be clear on business goals and manage information properly, you need emotional intelligence and good communication skills in order to create and maintain a collaborative environment.

3)  Do you think you should grow as a leader besides your work context? Why?  Again, the obvious answer would be “yes”, but young adults might not be used to thinking about this matter on a daily basis… Do you? This discussion brought the opportunity to address this issue for the first time to some of them. Emotional intelligence was mentioned again by my students as an important quality for everyone and for every aspect of life. The answer is yes, because you need the same emotional intelligence to gain control of your emotions in and out of work in order to not only get along with people and establish healthy relations, but to be tolerant, to be patient and to solve conflicts without being aggressive.  Also you have to take risks and make decisions in other aspects of your life outside of work. You need to be innovative, learn, grow as a person and develop planning skills to be organized in your everyday life and to have a plan in life, besides work.

In their answers, they didn’t use the words “values”, “helping”, or “integrity”, contrary to my expectations, but it’s ok.  I added those words to the discussion associating them with emotional intelligence and collaborative skills.

So, it´s my students turn to question me:  “…and for you, Professor Sergio, what do you have to do to become a leader?”  I said that the first step is to think and be curious about leadership. Have curiosity about learning and knowing how to become a leader, and ask yourself “what am I doing or not doing to improve my leadership qualities”, “do I have leadership qualities?”.  If you think that you should be better, that you need to develop or improve yourself, then your journey has begun.  But let’s not stay forever in the “thinking” stage.  Action needs to be taken, such as learning (at least reading about leadership), asking yourself who is your role model as a leader and why, asking for feedback about your leadership qualities, accepting your flaws and focusing on your strengths, and helping others to grow.  You see, as well as “when you teach, you learn more”, when you help others in their growing process, you also grow.

Before that class, I prepared those questions based on my own experiences and on what books and research teach us about leadership.  At the end of the class, the conclusion was that we all can be leaders: we all can prepare and grow our leadership and we need to grow on leadership for life outside the work, even if we are not managers for the moment. Most people have many of the leadership qualities, but maybe we don’t see them in ourselves. We all are capable to grow as leaders. You don’t have to wait for a promotion at work to think about how to become a leader. Prepare now. And leadership is for life, not only for work.

As the class ended, I remembered that the same student that contributed his thoughts about Mandela, was the same that told me once before that he began to enjoy his work in a Call Center since he earned a Trainer role, because he found that helping his colleagues brought meaning to his work. Then I found that we also share the same vocation:  helping through education. It’s so good when you can identify with your students and predict that they are on the right track of growing as a leader.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

― Nelson Mandela

After that class, everything we talked about led me to make a retrospective analysis of my own journey on growing as a leaders and I said to myself: I still have so much to learn, I must work harder on being a leader to myself, to my wife, to my kids, to my family, to my friends, because one thing is trying to accomplish organizational goals while trying to be a “good” leader at work and other thing is to dare to turn into actions those leadership qualities in all aspects of life.  So, my challenge is to be consistent in leadership at work, at home and other aspects in life.  What’s your challenge?

Sergio Ureña

Published on LinkedIn: Apr 14, 2015

Photo credits:

Top photo:  http://hiit-blog.dailyhiit.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/running-wallpaper-41.jpg

Nelson Mandela Photo:   http://media.photobucket.com/

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