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Four Hard Lessons for New Leaders

Some of the best lessons in life are hard to hear.

Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to have several key mentors who were willing to take risks with me. They told me the things I needed to hear, not the things I wanted to hear.

Also, knowing my hard-headedness, the delivery needed to be direct and undiluted. Subtle suggestions wrapped in fashionable niceties might work for some, but not with me – especially as a young man. Here I’ll share four hard lessons with you the same way they were shared with me. I’ll also share a related virtue to proactively cultivate that are related to each lesson.

Lesson One: You’re Not Special

Related Virtue: Humility

Yes, we’re all unique. We all have our own stories. Grandma thinks you’re a superhero, but so does everyone’s grandma. And the fact that everyone’s unique is, well, universal. Truth is, you are one human among several billion and there’s nothing inherent about you that guarantees that you’ll do anything extraordinary in life. Everything worth having and every big thing worth doing, requires work, pain, sacrifice, and perseverance. That’s what separates the snowflakes from the game-changers.

This why cultivating humility the single most important driver of leadership performance and predictor of success. Bank on it.

Lesson Two: No One Owes You Anything

Related Virtue: Charity

Everyone’s born with something stacked against them. Some more than others. That being said, the only person you can ever depend on 100% to overcome those things is yourself. I’ve even had friends who were born with every Richie Rich advantage you could possibly imagine. At least it looked that way from a distance. Up close, they too had hurdles to clear that I wouldn’t have traded-up for in a million years. One friend’s dad was a multi-millionaire, but his mom was stepping-out with her tennis coach, his brother was a drug dealer, and no one in that house liked each other. So, we all have our crosses to bear. Though we’ve all been the victim of something in life outside of our control, living like one is a self-imposed handicap.

Cultivating the virtue of charity, means focusing on what you do have and can give – not what you’re owed. Then, give that to the max to everyone with whom you are lucky enough to share this brief life. We’ll only be remembered for what we gave, not what we took.

Lesson Three: Hard Work Trumps Talent

Related Virtue: Fortitude

You’re a savant with language. You can calculate the Fibonacci sequence effortlessly into the trillions without a calculator. You intuitively sense whether that linen shirt should be paired with those corduroy pants. Good for you. It predicts nothing in the way of actual real-world accomplishment. If you had to choose between exceptional innate talent or being an inherently hard-worker – choose the latter. In the long run, hard work wins every time. If you can put both together, well then you'll be able to make some real magic if you combine it with the other three lessons here.

Fortitude means becoming the type of person who both shows-up and then sticks “it” out to the end. Success will not be determined by the things that come easy for you. It will be determined by your willingness to work on the things that are hard.

Lesson Four: Worldly Success is a False God

Related Virtue: Faith

A big house. That sweet S-Class Mercedes. A keynote at the next DEMO conference. The adulation of peers. None of these things are bad in and of themselves. However, if they are the true “why” behind what you do, you’re going to fail – maybe not in business, but certainly in life. Every leader has an ego. You wouldn’t seek positions of leadership if you didn’t. However, real greatness is only possible when cultivating goodness is your first priority.

All good people achieve a form of greatness. However, not all great people are good. Clarify the purpose for your work and understand how that purpose fits into the “hierarchy of goods” that scaffold a fulfilling life. That requires faith in something larger than yourself.

Be bold. Be brave. And always... be ready to rumble.

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