This past spring I had the fortunate opportunity to attend a 3 day summit on leadership at the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita, KS. The KLC was founded and funded to help improve Kansas communities by educating its citizens on the core tenets of leadership.
This education attempts to give the know-how and desire to fix complicated community problems beyond the scope of any single expert by utilizing the strengths of its members.
I will share with you some of the most important lessons I learned and thoughts I had from this experience and recommend you to look into something like this yourself, as you no doubt will have your own lessons to learn.
1. This Is Good Work
The goal of the KLC is simple: Make our citizens better. By educating people on leadership, those people will be more able when it comes to solving tough problems that arise in the community; the kinds of problems that don’t have a clear line of progression and might not have clear answers but are important nonetheless.
No matter what your views are on the efficacy of these actions you can’t deny the nobility of the cause.
2. Personal Leadership Takes Active Experimentation
Leadership is an activity, and just like any other activity, you get better at it by practicing. Just like if you want to be better from the foul line you need put in the work.
So many of us at the summit were used to the same style of education we had in school that we expected someone at the front to just tell us what we need to know, test us a bit, and give us our certificate once we had passed. The reality was much different, though. They did everything they could to disrupt this expectation and force us to experiment on leadership and get us out of our comfort zones.
This caused much frustration from some members of the group to the point where they “checked out” and refused to participate. Was this a problem with the participants or facilitators? Maybe a bit of both, but personally I didn’t find it an issue.
The bottom line is, if you feel like you didn’t get anything out of the experience, it was most likely your own fault. One of the main points of leadership is that if you feel like the group is headed in the wrong direction, you need to speak up and take steps to make a change if you feel it is important enough.
Leadership is an activity and a leader leads by doing.
3. A Room Full Of Would-Be Leaders Still Has Plenty of Naysayers
The reason community-scale problems are so tough to solve is because there are so many voices competing for a platform.
Take politics, for example. A subject notoriously good at ruining family gatherings, the world of politics involves the delicate balance of a plethora of variables. Progress is difficult to achieve because 1) Its unclear what progress looks like and 2) Not everyone is going to be happy with the results.
This reality was apparent even in a room full of people interested in the common good, maybe even more so than the general population.
When you mix limited time, energy, and resources with cobwebs of opinions, facts, and knowledge, you tend not to make it very far. Many noble and great projects fall short of their goal for this reason alone.
You have to learn to sift through the non-relevant while still letting people have a voice, and this is a tough balancing act.
4. Leaders Are Needed In All Ranges Of Projects: Large or Small
When I went to this summit I expected to see many big-wigs from big corporations learning how to be better industry leaders. What I found was a very wide range of people; entry level positions to CEO’s, and everything in between.
Leadership is just not a trait found by those in authority, it’s something that even those at the bottom of the totem pole need. Sometimes novel problems need the little guy. Sometimes you need a hobbit for a burglar, because they have the skill sets required to get the job done.
Never count yourself out and don’t be afraid to speak some sense to those in charge when they need it.
5. Leadership Has More Philosophy Than Some Would Like To Admit
Philosophy gets dumped on quite a bit in the academic world and the workforce. It is seen by many as some “head in the clouds” endeavor, asking and answering questions about things that don’t matter.
It’s quite the opposite though. Many philosophical inquiries are, at their root, about problems that cut right to the heart of human nature; it is the tangled discourse and lexicon that many seem to mistake for running in circles.
Leadership studies use philosophical methods to answer problems concerning human nature and conduct. Leadership could be thought of as branching off of the study of ethics in general.
I felt like I had an advantage above others at the summit, having come from a background in Philosophy.
An intense study of ethics would no doubt improve any leaders ability to keep a strong moral compass when dealing with issues that don’t have a clear right or wrong ending.
6. Leadership Is Stressing and Tiring
I couldn’t believe how mentally drained I felt from the whole experience. I mulled over everything learned over and over again, polishing each thought. I even took some opportunities to get out of my personal comfort zone, which felt like both a victory and defeat in itself.
I learned just what it takes to lead and to make change, but I also learned just how bad I can be at it, and how much more work needs to be done.
The whole thing felt draining, tiring, and stressful, and it taught me a valuable lesson about how to keep your spirits, and energy, high.
Conclusion, Sometimes You Have To Be A Little Pissed Off
One very important lesson learned at this conference was the importance of “controlling the thermostat” when it comes to the engagement of others. If it gets too hot, tempers will flare causing fights, resulting in no progress. If it doesn’t get hot enough, no one will care, resulting in no progress.
Sometimes something has to happen that pisses you off a little bit in order for you to feel that jumping into the fray is worth it.
Aristotle would tell us we need to find a good balance between calm and wrathful, maybe leaning a little towards wrathful. A golden mean of pissed-offness, if you will.
A big part of this website is controlling our emotions in order to utilize them for enhanced learning and growth. Leadership is no different.
Sometimes you need someone there to call you out on your bullshit in order for you to make a change for the better. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just make sure you don’t throw hands.
I would definitely recommend this experience to anyone interested in achieving their potential when it comes to personal development. It was a test of knowledge, reasoning, and courage.
Showing yourself what you can be takes some “getting out there,” so don’t be afraid to leap.