In 1804, Lewis and Clark faced the daunting task of finding their way across the vast wilderness of the American continent to reach its Pacific Coast. Their 33-member expedition included some of the most experienced navigators, scouts, woodsmen, and hunters in the United States. Yet despite their collective talents, the explorers would have died of starvation or from disorientation if they had relied solely on their own ingenuity. They were simply overmatched by the challenges of surviving in such unfamiliar terrain.

Realizing the perils of their situation, Lewis and Clark established relationships with indigenous Native American communities along their route to the Pacific. These local groups provided the expedition with guidance, supplies, and invaluable information about the surrounding environment. Benefiting from their help, Lewis and Clark were able to successfully complete their journey.

Five Qualities of a Leadership Guide

Regardless of your level of natural talent, you will not reach your potential in life without the guidance of others. It’s hard to grow with no one else to follow but yourself. To raise your level of influence, you need to link up with mentors and coaches who can model effective leadership. How do you identify these guides? I’d suggest looking for leaders with the following qualities.

1) A Passion for Personal Growth

When searching for a mentor or leadership model, ask yourself: Is he/she purposefully pursuing personal growth? People committed to a life of learning always have something to share. In perpetually seeking to develop themselves, they come across lessons that can be passed on to others. What are the telltale signs that someone is dedicated to personal growth?

  1. They ask questions.

  2. They read books or study the experts in their field.

  3. They’re unafraid to experiment (and fail).

2) A Trustworthy Example

Teaching is easy, but modeling is difficult. Anyone can spout out theories, but only a select few can consistently apply knowledge to deliver results. Likewise, anyone can write out an impressive list of personal values, but rare is the person who embodies them day after day amid the pressures of leading an organization. As industrialist Andrew Carnegie remarked, “As I grow older I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.”

3) Proven Experience

A Chinese proverb says, “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” Like a deep well holds nourishing water, a leader with proven experience houses a wealth of wisdom. Questions are the buckets from which we draw upon the experiences of others. When I meet someone who has clearly demonstrated the ability to lead at a high level, I ask the following questions in order to learn from him/her:

  1. What are the great lessons you have learned?

  2. How has failure shaped your life?

  3. What are your strengths?

  4. What is your passion?

  5. Who do you know that I should know?

  6. What have you read that I should read?

  7. What have you done that I should do?

4) Friendship & Support

The best guides listen and learn before they lead. They care about results, but more fundamentally, they care about people. In sharing his remembrances of management expert Peter Drucker, author Jim Collins spoke not of his theories but of his humanity.

“For me, Drucker’s most important lessons cannot be found in any text or lecture but in the complete example of his life. I made a personal pilgrimage to Claremont, California, in 1994 seeking wisdom from the greatest management thinker of our age, and I came away feeling that I’d met a compassionate and generous human being who, almost as a side benefit, was a prolific genius…Peter F. Drucker was driven not by the desire to say something but the desire to learn something from every student he met—and that is why he became one of the most influential teachers most of us have ever known.”

Perhaps the best question you can ask yourself about a potential guide is: “do they genuinely care about me?”

5. Competence

Leaders make things better for others; they add value in their relationships. As a leader or guide, I desire to help people…

  1. Prioritize their life

  2. See their value

  3. Develop their potential

Great guides leave a trail of positive influence wherever they have been. Even after the departing an organization, their legacy remains.

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