Skip to Main Content

Leading Well Is Living Well

Leading Well Is Living Well

How to extract wisdom from experience is a critical skill for any leader.


 By Brett Bourbon, Ph.D. 

Business writers have an unfortunate tendency to write about the three L’s of leadership, the five C’s of storytelling, the n X’s of whatever. Such gimmicky approaches to complex business tasks and roles give the illusion of content without the substance.  

Being told that one of the eight S's of surgery is to save the patient is good advice, but it won't help you become a better surgeon.

Let’s look at an example. We are told that one of the five C’s of storytelling is "creativity." Undoubtedly true. Inventing a good story requires creativity. Telling someone that, however, is as useful as recommending to someone who wants to do well in the long jump that it's important to jump far. True, but not helpful. Similarly, being told that one of the eight S’s of surgery is to save the patient is good advice, but it won’t help you become a better surgeon.

The problem is not just the obviousness of much of this advice. These prepackaged suggestions misconceive not only how we learn to do complex activities, they misunderstand what kind of activities leadership, storytelling and marketing are. The assumption is that such activities are skills that can be mastered with a handy list of things to do and work on. 

That is seldom the case. Leadership, for example, involves numerous variables. It is bound to particular cases and requires many talents, but it can also take many forms. There are some general principles of leadership, some good habits and a few heuristics. Leadership, however, needs to be understood as a practice, not a skill. Building a house is a practice; using a circular saw is a skill. Skills matter, but mastering the skills of using a carpenter's tools will not mean you've mastered the practice of building a house. And even more so with the strategic and operational challenges and responsibilities of leadership. 

A practice like leadership requires wisdom and judgment. One can develop these, perfect them even, but no list can give you a blueprint or recipe for leading well. 

Most importantly, a practice like leadership requires wisdom and judgment. One can develop these, perfect them even, but no list can give you a blueprint or recipe for leading well. And, even with wisdom and judgment, you can (and often will) fail. Success is never certain. That is part of the wisdom of leading.  

The education of a leader, therefore, must be an education in living, observing and thinking. It requires the virtues of courage and perseverance and a host of others. It requires self-awareness and an acuity in understanding others and complex situations. How to extract understanding and wisdom from your own experience is a critical skill for any leader. Leading well is ultimately living well.


Brett Bourbon

Brett Bourbon, Ph.D., is an associate professor of English at the University of Dallas and a consultant. He is a faculty member and former Director of the Master of Leadership program.

Connect with Brett Bourbon on LinkedIn

News

You Can Do What with a (Spanish) Degree?

His first step was to enroll in physician’s assistant school at Baylor’s College of Medicine, a career trajectory to which he had aspired since his early childhood. Nowadays, Jonathan Cunningham, BA ’17, is dedicated to the vocational pursuit of comfort and healing at MD Anderson in Houston, among the largest cancer treatment centers in the U.S., where he was once a chemotherapy patient himself.

+ Read More

History Alumnus Heads National Catholic Bioethics Center

During his Rome semester in 1991, Joseph Meaney, BA '93, with his friends (now Father) Kevin Cook, BA '94, and (now Texas State Representative and UD Trustee) Tan Parker, BA '93, attended a private Mass with Pope St. John Paul II. Several weeks earlier, they had hand-delivered a letter to the Swiss Guards outside St. Peter's requesting the Mass and including their contact information; at last, they'd received the phone call instructing them to be at the Bronze Gates at 5 a.m.

+ Read More