What Doesn't Kill You Makes You a Stronger Leader

Once the right person is in a leadership role, they usually take a beating. 

If you're looking for someone to solve your problems, look elsewhere. If you're looking for the "man with the plan," look elsewhere. If you're looking for someone to get things organized, don't ask me. I'm a leader, and that's not what I do. 


So what exactly do I do?

I prepare organizations for change, and help them cope as they struggle through change. 

This is innovation and leadership guru John Kotter's definition of leadership, which he distinguishes from management. Management talent rests on the ability to cope with complexity. That is a nice skill to have, but it is not enough, Kotter says. Leadership requires the ability to cope with rapid change and the ability to set the direction forward. This ability is not innate. It can be learned. And yet, identifying and honing leadership skills is no easy feat.

In a lesson on Big Think Edge, the only forum on YouTube designed to help you get the skills you need to be successful in a rapidly changing world, Kotter points out that once the right person is in a leadership role, they take a beating. "Almost every leader of any stature that I’ve studied has not had an easy life,” he says. "They’ve been knocked down any number of times. Nelson Mandela was in jail for 27 years, if you can believe that."

While it may not be that extreme for those in middle management, leaders can still take a page from Mandela’s playbook by picking themselves up when they get knocked down.

"People who learn to give really, really good leadership go the opposite direction," Kotter says. "They kind of pick themselves up, dust themselves off. Through hardship you really can become stronger."

The good news is that once people master their leadership skills, it can transcend industries and cultures, according to Kotter. Whether one is a politician or a CEO in the US or in South Africa, it’s all about inspiring people and gaining buy-in from the people they’re leading.

"It’s all about working with people to develop some kind of a vision of a future, which is always a change from where you’re at right now," Kotter says. "Then communicating that out to relevant constituencies in a way that gets them to really buy in with, not just with their heads, but with their hearts."

Sign up for a free trial subscription on Big Think Edge and watch Kotter's lesson here:

For expert video content to inspire, engage and motivate your employees, visit Big Think Edge

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