“A hero learns the craft. A fool doesn’t think there’s much to learn.” James Scott Bell says this in his book on writing. His Art of War for Writers is a field manual for all writing wretches (as he puts it), for writing is terribly hard. Writers have to learn how to be good at—
-getting the reader’s attention
-setting a good pace
-keeping it simple
-using the best words
-finding your voice
Leadership is its own craft. Heroic leaders learn and keep learning the essential skills—for leading is terribly hard.
Like foolish would-be writers who devote little attention to learning writing, foolish would-be leaders spend little time learning how to lead. They ride by the seat of their pants. Assume leadership is a gut instinct. Figure they have the basics down. They end up as little more than pallid, colorless drones, empty suits “hollowed out by the acid of their own egos” (Brooks). This describes too many who aspire to or are currently in leadership positions today. We settle for rubes when we need to find those who work at sharpening their trade.,
Credible leaders invest in refining their character and developing their competencies. They give great attention to field manuals that teach the skills necessary for leading. These are the stand out skills—
-learning to follow-“He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader” (Aristotle)
-learning to navigate-acquire the skill of living—a.k.a. wisdom—discerning reality is a necessary first step
-learning to think-leaders are compelled to understand the true meaning of things—who wants a vacuous leader?
-learning to see-the structures, hearts, politics, and symbols of an organization (Bowman and Deal)
-learning to read-the readiness level—the ableness and willingness—of people to follow (Hersey)
-learning to communicate-engaging, inspiring, persuading—which first comes out of deep listening
-learning to manage-time, resources, people. What good is a compelling vision and a sloppy organization?
-learning to solve- “If you don’t like problems, stay out of leadership” (Mattis)
-learning to adapt- “Don’t keep canoeing if there is no river” (Bolsinger)
-learning to decide-one way to recognize who the leader is–is to identify who people go to for a decision
-learning to execute-what good is a mission and a vision and a strategy without follow through?
-learning to measure-determine the outcomes that matter—we will stand before God one day to give an account
Whetting each skill will take a lifetime. Yielding and allowing God to direct the task of shaping will save much grief. Learning to become skillful in the ways of God–becoming good at listening, praying, seeking, waiting, discerning, and yielding—increases the capacity for true, heroic leadership.
The reality is that all leaders are apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. Hemingway acknowledged that this is true of writers. (He is the same one who acknowledged there’s nothing to writing. “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”)
Keep refining the skills, for leadership will have its own bleeding.