It’s time for leaders to go “back to school”

leadership blog

We are going through some extraordinary times because of the COVID-19 virus. It has challenged almost every aspect of our lives. For many people, this virus has disrupted their businesses, challenged their family practices, impacted their mental health, and even impacted them spiritually.

Leaders are not immune to these challenges.

In fact, in most cases, leaders are more affected by these challenges because they carry the weight of responsibility for those they lead. The COVID-19 virus introduced a level of complexity and uncertainty that some leaders have never faced in their lives.

There’s no question about it; times are tough. And when times get tough, leaders rise to the occasion.

But, how can a leader meet these complex and uncertain challenges? The best way forward is for many leaders is to take a step back. I mean go back to school.  It’s time for most leaders to re-learn some of the foundational principles that influence all leaders in all industries.

Consider this article a “back to school review” to help you remember some basic principles of leadership. Maybe by going back to the basics, we will be better prepared for the challenges waiting for us in the future.

It’s about helping people

Leadership is all about people. Without people, there is no leadership. One of the basic principles that most leaders learn early on is that leadership is about taking care of people.

When a leader takes care of the people under him or her, those people will, in turn, take care of the leader by working hard and giving their best effort. This basic idea has been successful for generations.

When those you lead are struggling emotionally, economically, or mentally, the best thing you can do for your business or organization is to genuinely care for your teams. This kind a sincere concern goes along way during difficult circumstances.

Build a culture, not a company

When people set out to lead, rarely is it for the purposes of simply making money or gaining power. Often, leaders begin because they believe passionately in something.

In other words, leaders always give their best to a great culture, not to a great company.  Interestingly, almost every time you get people passionate about the culture of a business, you will also get a great company. Great cultures create great companies – it doesn’t work the other way around.

I think the biblical leader Nehemiah understood this. He invested his time and energy building people, not just building a wall in Jerusalem. It was through Nehemiah’s passionate investment in people that they were able to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 11:22 demonstrates just how effective he was at creating leaders. Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem just happen to be the result of building great leaders.

It’s better to give than receive

Just because you heard this phrase as a child growing up, doesn’t mean it’s any less true as an adult. Our parents taught us that it really does bring us more joy to give to others than to receive for ourselves. This principle remains true in leadership, as well.

There are some pretty awesome benefits that come along with being a leader. However, the greatest leaders I know give far more of themselves than they receive from their leadership position. I believe that leadership is a gift from God for the purposes of serving others. For more on that topic, read Why I Serve Others.

Make a life, not a living

What do you want to be remembered for? Your answer to this question should drive every decision you make and every dollar you spend. We live in a world of possibilities… literally. Those possibilities cause us to make decisions about where we will invest our time, energy, and money.

Decide today what you want people to remember you for. Then make decisions based on that.

Leaders leave an impact. But leadership will also take a lot out of a person. Many leaders ask themselves the question, Is it really worth the sacrifice?

Leadership is hard work, but I believe it’s worth it. The influence that leaders have on others is a precious gift. Here’s a quick story of how I learned this lesson early in my career as a US Army Ranger- Confessions of a Reluctant Leader.

There’s no “I” in TEAM

Everyone is scrambling for answers or solutions to the COVID-19 problems we are all facing. Nations are struggling to find a vaccine and get it in circulation.  We are facing global problems, and global problems cannot be solved with individual solutions. It’s going to take all of us, pitching in together in order to forge a new future. We’re living through one of those “no I in team” situations all over the world right now. 

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Sue Bingham described what it’s going to take to meet the future global challenges.  She is convinced that the present challenges we all face are so complex that, “A one-size-fits-all approach won’t allow for the kind of individual thinking and creativity that will meet the challenges in front of us.[1]” 

Basically, Bingham is saying, you can’t copy somebody else’s recipe and expect it to turn out the same way in your kitchen. There is no single solution to the highly complex problems that most leaders a facing today.

Here’s my challenge to leaders today: It’s time for you to go back to school. It’s time for you to focus on the fundamentals. These things made you successful as a leader in the beginning; they will continue to give you success in the future. 

Build a team, invest in their lives, help others, give more than you receive, and pour your passion and energy into a culture. By doing these things, you can genuinely help people who are struggling through these unprecedented days.


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