Quora Saturday: effective leadership, spontaneity, introversion, high performance, Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia

August 13, 2016 by Joshua
in Quora

Continuing my Saturday series on posting my answers to questions from Quora, here are my next questions answered:

Q: What makes an effective leader?

A: Rather than describe the qualities and behaviors that effective leaders have, I’ll answer it takes to make someone an effective leader.

More than anything else, leaders are made through experience. Before a leader can take on a big challenge, he or she has to have taken on smaller challenges, developing and mastering the skills, experiences, and beliefs that it takes to handle big challenges.

While reading and talking about leadership doesn’t hurt, ultimately you have to take on challenges of motivating others to achieve goals together. Sometimes it will work. Other times it won’t and you’ll have to learn. You still have to find problems that you can solve with others and lead them to achieve the goal with you.

That’s what makes an effective leader.

Q: How can I be more spontaneous?

A: The great dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, called the Picasso of dance, expressed how to develop spontaneity better than anyone, in my opinion. It isn’t easy. What she says about dance applies to all creative work:

The dancer is realistic. His craft teaches him to be. Either the foot is pointed or it is not. No amount of dreaming will point it for you. This requires discipline, not drill, not something imposed from without, but discipline imposed by you yourself upon yourself.

Your goal is freedom. But freedom may only be achieved through discipline. In the studio you learn to conform, to submit yourself to the demands of your craft, so that you may finally be free.

And when a dancer is at the peak of his power, he has two lovely, powerful, perishable things. One is spontaneity, but it is something arrived at over years and years of training. It is not a mere chance. The other is simplicity, but that also is a different simplicity. It’s the state of complete simplicity, costing no less than everything, of which Mr. T. S. Eliot speaks.

It may sound paradoxical that spontaneity, which seems fleeting, should come through years and years of training, but only by mastering your craft can you speak through it fluently.

Learn your craft. Practice. Rehearse.

Q: How can I use my introversion as a business leader?

A: I recommend not using the mental model of introversion to describe yourself as it lowers your potential to grow and learn. I’ve written on an alternative view on what people call introversion and extroversion.

I recommend reviewing my blog posts:

Even if you don’t agree with the views there, it may give you alternative views. Some readers have found the views transformative and liberating.

Q: What books or articles describe the high performance leadership framework (as taught at Stanford)?

A: I didn’t take that class, but this page shows that someone who teaches that class, David Bradford, wrote a book called Power Up: Transforming Organizations Through Shared Leadership.

Also, I took a class called High Performance Leadership at Columbia Business School and the professor, Michael Feiner, wrote a book called The Feiner Points of Leadership, which you may find helpful. I found the course and professor fascinating and helpful.

Q: Should I feel bad about getting rejected from Harvard/Stanford/Columbia?

I am heading to Duke this fall for undergrad, but honestly I still feel sad about my rejections. People have told me that Duke has a great focus on undergraduates unlike Harvard and the others which focus more on their graduate programs and faculty, however I am not sure if this is true.

A: I recommend feeling motivated instead.

Here’s something that might motivate you:

I read a study of students accepted to both Penn and Penn State. Most people would choose the Ivy League school. For various reasons some chose Penn State (probably family or budget). The study tracked the students for years after college and found roughly equal success between the groups. I interpret that finding to mean that people will find the resources anywhere to achieve to their potential. If I remember right, the article I read said that while the students at Penn State had fewer Ivy-League-caliber resources than the Penn students, there were fewer students of their caliber, so they had more access to them.

Sorry I can’t cite my source so if you want more details you’ll have to look it up, but the big picture, as I see it, is that the choice of school won’t hold you back. Your asserting yourself to reach your potential will determine your success.

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