I was listening to Colin Cowherd’s radio show “The Herd” on ESPN Radio while I was driving the other day. Colin was interviewing Terrell Owens, and he asked Terrell a very fascinating question.
“What would the 39-year-old Terrell Owens tell the 29-year-old Terrell Owens? What have you learned over the last ten years that you wish you would have known then?” (I thought it was an excellent question. Don’t you?)
His answer was underwhelming, to say the least. He laughed and said, “Well, nothing really.”
Colin was incredulous. I was astounded. I couldn’t believe it.
Nothing? Really?!? You mean in ten years you haven’t learned ANYTHING?
I don’t know about you, but if the 49-year-old Mike could talk to the 39-year-old Mike, I would have a lot (and I do mean a lot!) to tell him.
I think that question raises an important point, not just about life, but about how we improve as leaders. As much as I believe in the importance of reading, attending workshops, and learning about leadership styles, philosophies, etc…. the reality is that all of these things are not enough to make you a better leader. They are “critical, but insufficient.”
To actually be a better leader, you have to perform better. You have to be able to model the way—more effectively than you did last time. You have to be a better catalyst for change than you were the last time. You have to handle the next crisis better than you handled the last one. Leaders have to lead the way—even in having a quest for continuous improvement.
Harvard Business Review recently reported on a study that identified the common traits of high-ranking executives of Fortune 500 companies who had been fired. High on the list of common characteristics was a tendency to tolerate their own mediocre performances and not learn from their mistakes.
Most of us would agree that Terrell Owens has made a few mistakes. We all have. Leaders make mistakes. The key thing, though, is to be honest with yourself and with others—and learn. Improve. Get better. Growing leaders ruthlessly review their own performances. Deliberately. They scrutinize it like Peyton Manning reviewing film from last week’s game.
Read some good leadership books, dialogue with other leaders, and attend some workshops. Those are all important things. However, in order to get the maximum benefit from it all, reflect on each leadership situation that you faced with the intent to improve and you will truly grow as a leader.
So as a leader, what lessons have you learned that you wish you would have known ten years ago?