By Peter Laburn
November 15, 2023

My leadership journey began early in my life. It was kickstarted by various opportunities from captaining sports teams to participating in student leadership activities and reinforced by serving in leadership roles at church, in charity organisations and on school boards.

As I took on these roles, I believe that I would make a positive contribution if I were enthusiastic and energetic. The transition to the corporate world was more challenging and as I grew into managerial roles, I quickly learnt what didn’t work. As my professional career – and my leadership experience – evolved, I became hungry to learn about what great leaders had in common, and what great leadership entailed.

As the popular 1973 Faces song goes, “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger”, here are eight things I wish that I understood when stepping into leadership as a young man.

  1. Understanding myself is one of the best investments I can make

Being self-aware enables me to acknowledge and accept my vulnerabilities – and embracing vulnerability is a fundamental principle for living an authentic life. When I live authentically, my behaviour is aligned to my values, and that enables me to be a consistent, courageous and purposeful leader.

  1. My leadership position is not about me

A successful leadership career is determined by an ability to champion the careers of others. When others recognise and grow into their full potential under my leadership, I am doing something right.

  1. I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room

Not knowing the answers isn’t a sign of weakness – but rather a sign of strength if I use it to galvanize opinions, expertise and wisdom from my team.

  1. I can’t manage my way to being a great leader

Management is a science that requires a completely different set of skills and competencies. Leadership, on the other hand, is about people – and people are complex and volatile. Extensive management training will not necessarily translate to me becoming a better leader.  Leading people is an art that relies on behaviour and values. If I treat the two roles separately, my role as a leader will be much clearer.

  1. Integrity is as important (possibly more important) than competency

Basic competency is, of course, necessary. But true leadership can only be driven by values and moral integrity. Without my integrity I can easily become incentivised to act in contradiction to my values – and work becomes driven by power and control. Then it doesn’t matter how competent or skilled I am – I’m not being a leader.

  1. I can’t change people, I can only inspire them to be better

The greatest way to inspire others is to lead by example – being authentic and self-aware. Through my own energy, accountability and self-actualisation, I can influence others to also become self-aware, authentic leaders.

  1. Leadership is about what I give

As a leader, I should always be mindful of what I might be taking from someone. Could I be taking away their confidence, their passion, their enthusiasm or their energy?  I must be equally mindful of what (and how) I give, such as feedback, compassion, empathy, and again, energy.

  1. If I try to be something I am not, I will run out of steam.

When I’m trying to be something I’m not – such as who my organisation wants me to be – I’m playing out of position. And that’s not a comfortable space to lead from. Leadership is not only about doing great leadership things. Great leadership is first about who I am being, and then about what actions I take. To be a truly great (and influential) leader that my community respects and follows, I must embrace my role as a leader in every aspect of my life and to not simply switch it on when arriving at the office.  And the only way to sustain this behaviour is if it is real and authentic.

About Peter Laburn

Pete Laburn’s purpose in life is to be a catalyst for enduring and positive change. He was born and raised in Johannesburg and in 1991, he founded Peter Laburn International, facilitating strategic business change when the South African corporate world was grappling with how to transition politically and socially to a new South Africa.

In 2007 he established the Lead with Humanity network. Through immersive and self-reflective experiences, that network helped leaders from all walks of life connect to their purpose, and lead and live with authenticity and humanity.

His notable business career and humanity-driven leadership development work has culminated in the principles and insights presented here in his first book, Leading with Humanity. For more information on his book CLICK HERE.