Back in primary school, I remember receiving a plastic medal with the words ‘Integrity’ on it. Apparently, I’ve won it after exhibiting traits of integrity to my teachers and looking back on it now it really wasn’t a trait that I remember exhibiting (it was actually quite the opposite).
Nevertheless, I was really proud of this actually meaningless bestowment, though to be honest back then I didn’t even remotely understand the meaning of the word itself.
I wore it with pride on my chest, like a badge of honour, all while lying to my Chinese teacher that I was having diarrhoea in the toilet during the entirety of her lesson (she didn’t buy it), when in reality I was actually chilling with my friends outside of school.
I got in trouble of course, but did I actually end up learning integrity? Nope, not from that experience. No one explained to me that lying doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in people. They just berated me for skipping class but didn’t explain to me the why of why it was bad.
In fact, there is a whole load of things that we don’t learn in school, and one of them is how to be a good leader.
So, here I am more than a decade later, having been sent by unforeseen forces around me to tell you the 10 traits of a good leader that are not taught in Singapore Schools.
1) The ‘Why’ of Honesty and Integrity
Let’s say a certain church’s leaders took our hard-earned cash that we donated to the church out of goodwill, all to create a music video and proclaim herself/himself an international pop star (with around 1k dislikes on the video so far), would you trust this person to lead you?
Hell, I wouldn’t even trust the person to be my insurance agent.
Sure, we heard about honesty and integrity in moral education, but let’s be real here, who actually listened to this common-sense subject with no exams?
My point being, we knew about it, but it wasn’t enforced. We weren’t taught of the practical reasons of the ‘why’, but instead, we were told that we should.
2) Don’t Do Everything Yourself
This is an important one. How do you make sure a company runs as smoothly as it does?
Do you think Mr Krabs could have run a successful underwater fast food restaurant all by himself?
When you picture an efficiently run company, do you imagine a single person handling everything, even micromanaging, or do you imagine a team of leaders, and under them, more leaders, taking jobs they can do well and passing off what they can’t handle to people who can handle it better?
Having the ability to delegate prevents you from being burnt out, allowing you to see clearly and being a much more effective leader in turn. In the case of Mr Krabs, sure he’s a lazy, greedy asshole, but that man crab knew the importance of delegation.
In schools, the goal is to always do what your teacher told you to do. Delegation was optional, entirely up to you if you knew how or wanted to even do it in the first place.
3) You Understand Me or Not?
Ever been told by your significant other that you don’t understand them?
Me too. Or at least, I would have if I still had a girlfriend. Brb, going to cry in a corner for a bit.
All right, I’m back; I’m fine.
It is understood that to be a leader of men, you first have to understand said men. (I said men, not man; both sexes are included so you can lower your pitchforks now). But I don’t ever remember being taught people skills in school, it was more of having to figure it myself.
Once I threw a ball in another person’s face because they wanted to chase me out of the playground (when I was very young of course). Talk about my lack of people skills and being territorial.
4) Communication Skills
Have you ever gotten weak in the knees when asked to speak or present something in front of an audience?
Now imagine being a leader and having to do this on a daily basis.
Sure, doing it often helps with public speaking, but I’m talking about communicating effectively, not confidently (though confidence helps too).
Visualize yourself as a Roman general in ancient times.
You tell your subordinates to light the fire in the kitchens to prepare for dinner tonight, but because of your abysmal communication skills they light the pyres instead and now, 1200km away, a neighbouring country sees it as a sign of an activation of enemy forces and declares war on Rome. Your country is unprepared and the Roman empire collapses. (not actual factual event)
Communication skills are really important.
5) Personal Growth
It’s 2019 and you don’t want to be stuck with skills from just the 1900s. The math doesn’t add up, but I mean, you get the point, right?
The urge to learn for oneself isn’t cultivated in schools, and it really actually depends on the school’s culture. In my personal experience, I’ve actually been taught that studying isn’t an enjoyable thing, and I’m sure that many of you are the same.
In reality, upgrading yourself is really important if you want to be an effective leader. You don’t want to be replaced by the younger ones, do you?
Let’s use the Rome example again, because I really enjoy using it.
Your enemies are using guns and you’re using spears cause you want to be original and because it has worked for a thousand years, so why not now?
Your empire falls.
6) Teaching skills
To be an effective leader, you must also become an effective teacher. If your employee is doing something wrong, don’t you have the responsibility to change it?
I mean sure, you could let your company bleed into the red and not teach your employees, but let’s not right?
The thing is, schools don’t really teach teaching skills to students.
Obviously, it’s because teachers want the monopoly on teaching and what kind of school will it be if students are teaching teachers? (I’m just kidding)
“But he did it first what!”
Imagine if your boss said that. It’s a sign that your boss does not own up to mistakes and would more than likely avoid correcting the mistake that way.
On a bigger scale, imagine if Apple said that every time some other company came out with something first. We wouldn’t have the iPhone or the Mac. We’ll probably still be stuck with the Apple I. Instead, they took it in their stride and innovated in place of avoiding the topic. Though of course innovation is still debatable.
Once again, lower your pitchforks folks.
Jokes aside, accountability inspires confidence because it builds trust not just amongst clients but also to your employees.
Schools don’t really explicitly teach this, unless of course you did something really wrong and they have to force it out of you cause you were a really bad liar when you were young.
Don’t tell me you learnt how to be creative doing science, math, or English papers. You and I both know you’re lying.
Raise your hand if you ever used 小明 in your Chinese papers before. I know you have.
Creativity is really important in a wide variety of situations. Be it problem-solving or optimizing existing workflows, a little bit of creativity could go a long way (and might also be that extra step you need).
No pain no gain, right?
Investors and business owners know this well, without personal sacrifice or a temporary setback in finances, your potential returns are never going to be that great.
Good leaders know when to risk take, and when to stay safe. Manoeuvring this narrow road takes considerable experience and skill but is an essential skill nonetheless.
Just this morning, I took a risk by crossing the road when the green man was blinking. Would I have gotten to where I wanted to go if I didn’t cross at that moment? Probably. But not as soon as I would have if I crossed when it wasn’t blinking. #risktaker
Schools teach you how to be safe and to always take the assigned road, but they don’t often tell you what happens when you don’t.
Imagine having the foresight to know if your breakfast toast was going to be burnt and you wouldn’t have wasted time trying to make it and instead made cornflakes or something because I’m a total failure at cooking. Oh wait, did I say me?
A good leader needs foresight, to anticipate events and act upon them. Think the financial crisis is going to hit us? Prepare your company for that eventuality. Didn’t know because you haven’t followed up much on current events lately? Well, shit.
Or what about Blockbuster and its failure due to the rise of services like Netflix? They probably wouldn’t have gotten themselves in such a rut if they predicted it based on current trends.
Once again, the school didn’t really teach me about foresight. They did tell me when my homework was due though.
So, there you have it. A list of leadership traits that schools didn’t teach us about. The question now is, are you going to develop these traits yourself?
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