Three Traits Of A Lifelong Leader

I am taking a break from writing for a few days to evaluate the second half of 2012 and for a speaking engagement in Southern California. While I’m away, I’m re-posting some of my most popular posts from the last year. I hope you enjoy reading or re-reading these posts. I’ll be back and better than ever on July 16, 2012!

Look above at the top banner on my site. Located beside the deeply reflective pose I’m striking in the picture, I’ve included a tagline under my name.

Developing Lifelong Leaders

I love that statement. It’s both the mission and vision of what I hope to accomplish with my life. It’s my focus and my passion.

Leadership development is closely tied to personal development. When you do the hard work to become a better leader, you become a better person.

A couple of people have emailed me and asked me what a lifelong leader looks like. Does this person hold a position of leadership over the course of a lifetime? Is this the type of person who is always looking at situations from a leadership perspective?

In an effort to more clearly define what I mean by lifelong leader, I’d like to point out three traits that I use to identify this type of person:

1. Lifelong Learner

A leader must be a learner. The minute you stop learning, you begin the process of rendering yourself useless as a leader. Learning expands your world. It keeps a person from getting stuck. Learning is the appropriate response to failure and mistakes. If you make one, it keeps you from repeating it again.

Growth is the result of learning. Leaders who stop learning use old remedies to solve new problems. Learning helps a person stay mentally fit. It keeps us younger and keeps us teachable. A person can actually learn to become a better leader.

Learning encourages a person to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Learning shouldn’t end with schooling. In fact, school should prepare us for how we’ll learn once we leave the classroom.

If a person is motivated to learn, that person has the potential to lead.

2. Takes Responsibility

Leadership carries the weight of responsibility. It doesn’t matter if you’re leading yourself, a project, or another person – the leader is responsible. A leader steps into areas of greater accountability and authority. This person administrates the choices and accepts the consequence of those choices.

If a leader dodges responsibility, the person dodges leadership. The need for leadership grows out of the need for a responsible person.  The first question a lifelong leader asks isn’t do I want to be a leader?, the first question is do I want to be responsible?.

It is in taking responsibility for oneself each day, every day that qualifies one for lifelong leadership. Personal responsibility is the prerequisite for positional leadership. It is often a lack of personal responsibility that disqualifies one from leadership.

If a person has a track record of taking responsibility, that person is a promising candidate for leadership.

3. Empowers Change

I’ve always felt that problems are job security for leaders. Growth and improvement don’t occur without changing something. A vision of a preferred future is a roadmap to change something that is or isn’t happening in our present reality.

Leaders recognize that change is always necessary, both personally and professionally. A leader doesn’t create change for change sake. Rather, a leader chooses the beneficial changes to make for everyone involved.

Leaders walk people through the process of change. They anticipate both the opportunities and the obstacles that will occur as a result of each change. Leaders contemplate the right timing necessary to enact effective change. They communicate the reasons and the rationale for change with clarity and consistency.

If a person can empower the change-resistant to become change-receptive, that person has incredible possibilities for leadership.

Again, let me emphasize that you don’t have to be in a leadership position to consider yourself a lifelong leader. Personal leadership should always precede positional leadership. The goal here is to approach life with the perspective of a leader – to think like a leader thinks. As you improve and grow in each of these traits, the opportunities to lead others will begin to show up.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Chris

    Tim
    For me it isn’t about becoming a ‘life long leader’ it’s about ‘leadership as a way of life’. Leadership isn’t something you turn on and off, it’s about how you are as a person all the time. I’ve worked as a senior leader and I now lecture on it based on many years of experience. I accept that the three areas you highlight are relevant to leadership, but I think you need to focus more on the basics. None of your three areas will matter if you don’t have the trust of your people, if you can’t communicate effectively, if your inconsistent, lack credibility and resilience.
    These are the foundations upon which leadership is built.

    • tim milburn

      Hi Chris:
      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I am grateful for that. I also agree with your comment. I would hope that these aren’t traits that one turns on and off but lives in the awareness and improvement of each one on a daily basis. I also like the additional traits you list and believe as you do that they’re very valuable, especially as one seeks to lead others. That’s why the title of this post wasn’t, “The Three Traits…” or “The Only Three Traits…”

      I join you in working to develop others who desire to view “leadership as a way of life.”

      Blessings your way!

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  • Andrew

    In addition to what you both have mentioned – leadership can be holding yourself accountable & responsible when you think no one else is looking.