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Where is the starting point of leadership?

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

Recently we were asked to speak to emerging leaders at a major institution. We were asked not so much to ‘teach’ leadership in one hour, but to help emerging leaders to reflect on their own leadership and explore aspects they were particularly interested in, including civic engagement. Whilst this is something we have done dozens of times and we always enjoy greatly, we thought very deeply about how to best spend that one hour with these young leaders.

Two of our senior executives decided to explore the assignment over some refreshment after work. One raised a question to the other “Where should we start when we talk about leadership to a cohort of emerging leaders? I know this is routine for both of us, but let’s re-explore this, given the specific needs and interests of the cohort. Can we distil this one hour down to give some key ideas, something to carry and sustain them in their own journey?”

I should add that in the organisation we have a culture of re-examining things all the time as a matter of course. It’s not unusual for us to take an idea or a concept that we work with all the time and break it down again – it helps everyone to stay fresh, agile and current. So began a long and interesting session of drinks, deep thinking and robust exchanges of ideas. At the end of the evening – long after dinner, we decided that we would begin the session by exploring the idea that a very good starting principle for aspiring leaders is “Do the right thing”.

This advice is timeless. The ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Plato said “Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.” In other words, by doing good, we inspire others to follow suit in also doing good. Fast forward approximately 2,400 years into the future, and we find the highly respected WWII military leader and later US President and de facto leader of the free world, Dwight Eisenhower saying “The supreme quality of leadership is integrity”.

‘Doing the right thing’ is of itself a statement of leadership. It sets a standard to meet, and an example for others to emulate. By doing the right thing, we communicate to others around us that we are deserving of their trust, certainty and respect. If we start with doing the right thing, we develop a conscious awareness of values and ethics, and build our own courage, conviction and confidence.

Doing the right thing is easy to say but not always easy to do. It is a challenge that all of us will face – perhaps not every day, but at crucial moments of time. It requires courage, integrity, effort and confidence. Doing the right thing is an excellent starting point for leadership.

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