Leadership Spotlight Learning from failure
“Being a leader is like being a lady, if you have to tell someone you are, you’re probably not.”
Can we learn leadership? Many perspectives differ as to whether or not we can. Some people view leadership as something that simply comes naturally, while others believe that individuals can develop and learn it through life experiences and crucibles. One thing remains certain in my view: We can learn leadership if we will open our minds, be self-reflective, and strive for continuous improvement. Our minds operate like a parachute: They only work if open.
I feel extremely humbled to serve as a leadership instructor in the FBI National Academy. In this role, I often view myself more as a learner than an instructor. I strive to facilitate discussions with the goal of all of us learning from each other. Leadership truly is behavior driven, and it is observable. Unfortunately, poor leadership also is observable and something we can learn from as well.
I find that I continually observe others’ behavior for leadership in action. How do they treat others? Are they concerned about the welfare of their team? Do they lead by example? Do they model the behavior they expect from other personnel? How do they make decisions? Do they take risks? Sometimes, the best lessons of leadership are not in classrooms or textbooks. Rather, they exist all around us, and we can observe and learn from them. If you are committed to becoming a better leader, do not miss the daily lessons of those around us. What I often find fascinating is that, frequently, persons who do not even hold positions of authority display the best leadership.
In their recent book Pick Up Your Own Brass: Leadership the FBI Way, former FBI executives Kathleen McChesney and William Gavin explore leadership by providing real-world examples demonstrated by action.1 As the title depicts, sometimes, the little things speak volumes about persons’ character and their desire to lead.
The best leaders are lifelong learners. Whether we observe a law enforcement executive, government official, military leader, or corporate official, we constantly see lessons on leadership. Perhaps, you are reading the latest leadership article or book or studying at a university. There are so many ways to develop yourself. But, do not miss the greatest opportunity to learn—reflectively observing your own behavior and that of those around you.
1 Kathleen McChesney and William Gavin, Pick Up Your Own Brass: Leadership the FBI Way (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, Inc., 2011).
Special Agent Michael O. McAuliffe, an instructor in the Leadership Development Institute at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.