Leadership is knowing their kid’s birthdays

Leadership is a skill that everyone should know how to do. It’s a mandatory part of the human experience. But at its core, leadership is psychology.

There’s a lot to unpack there! First, let’s start about why leadership is a required skill.

Leadership is a required skill for everyone

To start, we at Ten Minute MBA strongly believe that leadership is an essential skill that everyone should practice. If we had a magic wand and could make it a mandatory class at all high schools, we absolutely would.

Think about it. There is a zero percent chance you will go through life without a moment where you need to display leadership. Some common leadership moments that come to mind are:

  • Work: you serve as a boss
  • Home: as a parent, you’re a leader to your children
  • Social: you’re a leader amongst your friends

Leadership could be completely unexpected as well. If you are walking down the street and someone collapses in front of you, you now are in a leadership position. You call 911 and help the person however you can.

If you put thought into it, my guess is you’ll come up with examples where you have to be a leader every day.

Bad leaders can cause incredible damage

Okay, so we’ve recognized that everyone is a leader at some point in their life. In other words, why leadership is “required.”

But that doesn’t address the fact we referred to leadership as a “required skill.

The reason leadership is a skill is because there are undoubtedly horrible leaders out there. These are the people everyone avoids in the office and the people you don’t want to see at the PTA meeting. In short, they’re assholes.

Perhaps most damaging though is bad leaders destroy motivation. If the core definition of leadership is to inspire people to achieve a goal, bad leaders who destroy motivation do the exact opposite.

So if you are going to be a leader at some point in your life and bad leaders can cause damage, it’s time to learn how to be a good leader.

But first, let’s dispell a common myth about leadership that prevents people from trying to learn.

Natural leaders don’t exist. Leaders who developed their skills for years do exist

The reality is leadership is a skill because it takes development and practice. Contrary to the notion of the common phrase “natural leader,” that person doesn’t exist.

I (Dean) have been called a natural leader many times in my life. People started using that phrase about me in high school and I still hear it today.

In practice, I joined a football team in 3rd grade to start working on leadership. The people who called me a leader in high school missed the ten years of trial & error as a leader on my youth sports teams.

So when I got to high school, people were amazed. College, same thing. Ditto for the professional world. The reality is that when I entered the workforce, I’d been working on leadership for close to 15 years.

Natural leaders are a myth. Those who work to develop leadership are the ones people refer to as “natural leaders.” They just didn’t see the years of practice to g

How to learn leadership: recognize leadership is psychology

At its core, leadership is psychology. That’s news to some of the shitty bosses out there who view leadership as being ‘bossy,’ screaming at their team, or hearing themselves talk!

But again, let’s look at how we defined leadership up there:

Leadership is to inspire people to achieve a goal

The key word in this definition is inspire. If you honestly are going to inspire, you need to know how your team thinks. The reason why is different people will find different things encouraging.

We’re all different. We think about things differently, we have different emotions, and we prioritize different things. The things that inspire each of is different than the next.

Let’s use a tangible example. Let’s say you’re leading a team of four. They are:

As is standard across groups, they all are inspired by different things. Here are the four things the team find inspiring:

  • One needs a kick in the ass to get motivated
  • One doesn’t need motivating; they’re self-motivated
  • One wants to be told how their work fits into the bigger picture
  • One wants encouragement each day

If you use one style, you’re motivating one and unmotivating three

If you go with the “kick in the ass” strategy for all of your employees, you’re screwed. Sure, one of your four will be motivated. The other three won’t.

If you use a different style for each employee but use the wrong style, you’re screwed

Let’s say Bob is the person who wants encouragement each day to stay motivated. But let’s say you guessed wrong and used the “kick in the ass” strategy.

Guess who is extremely unmotivated now? Those motivation strategies are the exact opposite, and you used the wrong one.

Leadership is psychology because you need to know each person you lead and know what motivates them

So that example brings us to the point: leadership is psychology because you need to know how each team member is different.

This lesson took years to learn, but once you do, it’s a huge game changer. I’ve won two highly competitive awards for leadership, and it’s due to the realization that leadership is psychology.

Understand what each person cares about, and you can be a great leader

The simple rule to be a good leader: know their kid’s birthday

So you might ask now: how do you understand what each person cares about?

The short answer is to change your conversation ratio. The more questions you ask, the more you’ll learn about the other person.

But regular readers know that I love simple rules to understand topics. So the simple rule for leadership is this: know when their kid’s birthday is.

For (almost everyone!) who has kids, their children are the most important thing in their life. Their kid’s birthdays are the most important days of the year.

So follow that simple rule: spend time getting to know your team in order to understand what they care about and how to motivate them.

Once you get to the point where you know their kid’s birthday, the most important day of the year for them, you’re probably at the point where you can effectively lead them.

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