Thursday, August 4, 2011

The First Timeless Pillar of Leadership

by Peter Baker, Executive Director, Laser Institute of America

When you strip away all the fads of the last four decades and focus on what really works, there are Seven Timeless Pillars of Leadership. Here is the first one:

Know Thyself
The oracle at Delphi said it, and Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, said “Know thyself, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”

You might well ask, “What does this mean for me? What shall I do about it?” What it means is that each of us has a unique set of aptitudes and attitudes, strengths and weaknesses. Some are bold and fearless like Alexander the Great—cut the Gordian Knot—rule the world! Some are more thoughtful and deliberate like Dwight Eisenhower—take time to plan the D-Day invasion, research moon and tide—then launch. There are many leadership styles and each can be effective, but you cannot copy someone else’s style. You must, as Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true.” People can spot a fake in a heartbeat.

Most of us have a good idea of our key characteristics. If you are reading this you are probably pretty smart (hard to lead successfully if you are not) and have a basic idea of your type. I recommend digging in and facing the truth; be clear on your strengths and weaknesses. Use tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® test or the DiSC® Personality test or other similar systems.

On two occasions I benefited by taking a whole battery of IQ tests, aptitude tests and tests to help show which kinds of careers would best fit me—and which would not. I found, no surprise, that I would be a poor fit as a Marine Corps Major! It was also recommended that I not try to fix my own car and to make sure I always have a good administrative assistant—good advice indeed. These tests and others like it are readily available online or through your local university career center. I recommend a career center which has the advantage of trained counselors to interpret and advise.

Once it is clear who the real you is, you can focus on using your strengths and building a team to support your weak areas. You can go through a similar process with key members of your team.

So there it is, the number one Pillar of Leadership—Know Thyself!

Peter Baker is the Executive Director of Laser Institute of America. He has studied and practiced the art of leadership since 1970.

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