So You Want To Be A Leader?

To be a natural leader, Gary North tells us, you must serve. As an example of what he means, he refers to a book titled “Dedication and Leadership,” by Douglas Hyde. Originally published in 1956, it contains a chapter that recounts how Hyde taught an overweight, stuttering man named Jim to become a leader in the Communist Party. The tactic? Jim had to prove his dedication and earn the respect of his fellow workers by showing up at every trade-union meeting, setting up the chairs, doing any other grunt work that needed doing, and by doing the best job he could on the production line.

When it comes to leadership, Hyde figured, actions speak louder than words. North reminds us that the same principle of leadership was articulated by none other than Jesus Christ, who — in a lecture to some disciples who had been squabbling over which of them would become the leader — said this: “Whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45).

Since you can’t be a leader in every area, North advises you to pick one in which you want to excel. Then devote time, effort, and money to mastering it. The key is mastery. He reiterates the ETR dictum on mastery: “If you will devote 5,000 hours to almost anything, you will become an expert if you have any innate ability at all. You will be so good at it that you can distinguish poor performance from good performance, and understand how to avoid the poor and deliver the good. If we are talking about a 40-hour week, 5,000 hours is two and a half years. If you devote an hour a day, it will take you 15 years.

If you start at age 20, by 35 you will be an expert. For something that takes an hour a day, that’s not too long to wait.” Ideally, says North, you should start young — but if you’re already past that point, you can still become a leader in your chosen field. The experience you already have will count for something. But you still need to put in a lot of hours — maybe 3,000 or 4,000, depending on what you know and what you need to do to master your trade.

To get that time in faster, you need to find more time to devote. That may mean quitting your job, staying up later, or (better yet) getting up extra early. If you pick a field that really interests you, he says — something that ignites your imagination and makes you feel like you are doing some good — your chances of sticking with it will be much greater. The greatest enemy to success is loss of passion. And loss of passion is most likely if the passion is shallow. (In discussing my own career, he once advised me that I should write only about those things that I’d write about if I weren’t paid for the writing.)

When speaking to high-school students, North tells them to find a vocation that they value and then dig in. “Don’t leave,” he admonishes. “Don’t answer the call of more money elsewhere. Instead, become a fixture in the community you are seeking to lead. Become reliable people who are called on, year after year, to show up at meetings. Most people will not show up.

Those who do will wind up in the positions of leadership. Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is just showing up. He was right. “Start at the bottom. Scrub the toilets. Do the work that nobody else wants until the system depends on you. Keep learning. Keep improving yourself.” Good advice — no matter how old you are or where you are in building your career.