Think of all the programs, books, seminars, gurus and even businesses dedicated to spreading their lessons in leadership. The vast majority focus on "how to" and techniques instead of starting with an understanding that substance, in all things meaningful, must precede process. Chris Lowney summed this principle up well when he said, "The beguiling but misleading promise implicit in "7 Steps To Becoming a Leader" is that one will actually become a leader by completing the steps. Anyone who has tried to lead oneself or a team knows that nothing could be less true. Personal leadership is a never ending work in progress that draws on continually maturing self-understanding."
The business world is full of evidence that this is true as well. Think of substance as the answer to the question, "Why are we doing this?" Only when you start with some kind of meaningful substance can you hope to be tutored in specific techniques that will better your performance. Think of the implications of this truth not only for leadership, but for management, networking, planning, strategy, employee & customer relations - you name it, substance has to precede technique in order to achieve anything meaningful.
Leadership has become an industry because, as businesses look to achieve greater "returns" they constantly seek "competitive advantage" and the particular "steps" that must be followed to get them to their "company vision". This is backwards. What real leaders do is come up with a compelling and meaningful ambition, not a hollow "vision" that only ever gets mentioned in corporate handbooks but never achieves anything of any real value. Developing this ambition requires making a conscious choice to trade in narrow definitions of business "success" for the broader and more aspirational goal of significance. Once this has been established by a self-aware leader, then the people skilled in the necessary techniques can be engaged and put to work on achieving the ambition. Indeed, a leader that begins with substance in every aspect of their lives and business is the only one positioned to realise what actions are really necessary to achieving the goal. Furthermore, clearly understanding and being able to articulate the business' ambition will allow a leader to find likeminded partners to help with the required tasks instead of trying their luck with the vast pool of "experts" offering advice.
This is an important point that should not be underestimated. There are good coaches, mentors and consultants in the world. Many of them are invaluable to their clients when it comes to putting the right knowledge and wisdom together for the purpose of achieving better outcomes. But even the most skilled technicians can't coach you into your ambition, or your company vision to use the common turn of phrase. They might be able to help you clarify it or focus it, but the substance of it must come from the leader responsible for leading his or her team to the final achievement of it. It can be helpful for a leader to work with someone they trust to question and challenge them on what it is they really want to accomplish in the first place - before hiring a consultant to implement a change program from the perspective of any particular "technique". But foremost, leadership requires the self-awareness to be confident in the knowledge of your strengths, weaknesses, values and world view. Starting with personal substance, you can then establish a compelling, meaningful business ambition that goes beyond the traditional ideas of success measured only in financial terms measured on a profit and loss statement.
What you get by reaching your goals is not nearly as
important as what you become by reaching them.
- Zig Ziglar