I’ve had a lot of time to kill in airports. Thankfully, most airports have bookstores and more thankfully, I can spend hours in bookstores. What strikes me most is that no matter where I’ve been, in North America, Europe, Asia and even Africa, you inevitably find two types of books alongside novels and travel guides: biographies of famous people and self-help books.
People all over the world are looking for some sort of inspiration, some sign of wisdom that will help them find happiness, satisfaction, fulfillment. People seem to want to learn how leaders lead, and to practice the lessons they learn so that they can have more influence, more impact.
Inevitably, result of spending too much time in airport bookstores while jet-lagged and bleary-eyed, I ended up buying my fair share of novels. But once in a while (especially tantalized by the super-cheap book prices in Indian airports), I’d end up buying a book on management, leadership, etc. 5 pages into the book, I’d lose interest and never read the book again. When I went back into the office said book would come with me and the poor souls who worked for me would get told ‘hey guys, anyone who wants this book is welcome to it’. Don’t get me wrong: the books were perfectly fine. Some of the people who read these books really, really enjoyed them and they did help. It’s just that they never spoke to me.
Perhaps that’s because I had the absolute privilege and honor of learning my leadership lessons from real leaders. Some of these people are well-known, but I bet you’ve never heard of most of them. Some are CEO’s, board directors, professionals, but most have occupations and titles you’d never associate with leadership. All of them have shared their journeys with me openly and honestly. And I have had the fortune of walking with many of them for part of these journeys.
So what did I learn?
I’ll tell you in more detail in subsequent blogs but here’s the most important lesson I ever learned; one I practice every day of my life:
True leaders are authentic.
When you meet a true leader, there is no act, no ‘public face’ that hides a private persona. True leaders are unabashedly themselves.
Now remember: this does not mean true leaders engage in verbal diarrhea, telling everyone what they think of themselves, others, the world.
It means that true leaders are authentic in that who they are, what their personalities are, and what core values they have, shine in their every word, every gesture, and every connection.
And this, not only when the leaders are in some sort of people leadership mode. They are authentic in every moment of their lives.
Try it sometime.