Teach, and They Will Follow
Think about the times in your life when you've been the most successful. Those times when you worked hard to achieve something, it can be anything you worked hard to achieve, and think about what it took to get there. Perseverance was part of it, no doubt. A set of skills you had or you developed, which improved as you worked through the process of achieving your objective. A set of expectations, self-directed or set by others, which you internalized to make sure you were able to succeed.
And people. Think about the people you had around you, who did what they needed to do to provide you with the ability to achieve your objective. It could have been parents who made sure you got to your practices. It could have been your friends, who adjusted their schedules to run with you those last miles to keep you going as you trained. It could have been your boss or coworkers, who made sure that the project was approved and funded or made sure that the infrastructure you were counting on was there and ready for your deliverables.
While we all have great ideas and incredible talent, we ultimately succeed because of the people around us who are willing to help pave the way to allow that success to happen. As we take on projects we learn from them, our mentors and friends, and grow. Think of the people who've been successful, the ones you admire and look to for examples on how to do it right. They worked hard, but they had people upon whom they relied, who helped them achieve that success.
In the course of your career, or your life, you have the ability to achieve success, and sometimes that success is achieved after some degree of failure. It's true that you learn more from failure than you possibly could through success. Failure helps you learn what doesn't work, and should always be viewed as a learning opportunity. But what helps you get through those moments of failure better than the support of the people around you? Those people are your cheerleaders, your mentors, the ones who love you even when disaster happens. Those people help you dust yourself off and start again, helping you start again with your newly found experience, to work towards your goal.
So, where do these people come from? Most often it starts with your family, your parents, your spouse, your kids. As you get involved in daily life you meet people with similar interests, and as you try things you find interesting, you find others who are interested in the same things, and they become your friends. They have experiences you may not have, and offer guidance, and some who are very experienced step into the role of a mentor, who are willing to help you through their experience, allowing you to avoid some of their mistakes so you can go farther.
As you become more experienced in your activity you'll meet people who are just starting out. While you could ignore them and let them figure it out on their own, you'd miss out on a great opportunity, because the best way to learn how to do something is to teach someone else. In doing so you'll not only help them get started, but you'll find that you'll learn much more about your activity than you possibly could just doing it. They'll have approached it in a different way and will have different ideas, and they'll ask questions. You'll then start thinking in different ways about it yourself, and so you'll learn. Along the way you'll develop a relationship that is both satisfying and rewarding. You've now become a mentor to that person, or to a group of people.
In your life you'll develop interest in a variety of activities. Look at each of those activities, think about the people who are prominent in each of them, and spend some time learning about how they got there. In some cases it was based on talent, but it was never on talent alone. There were people in every single case who helped that person get to where they are. The people who helped pave the way are the important ones, because they offered their experience to help others make a difference. They're the real leaders.
How does one become a leader? One thing for certain, it doesn't come from one person standing up and declaring that they're the leader. When that happens people may go along, but it rarely lasts. Leaders are people that others naturally want to follow. Why do they want to follow those leaders? Generally because the leaders are willing to give of themselves, to teach, to mentor, to help people be successful. They share their experience, not in a way that is boastful or demeaning to others, but in a way that offers guidance, a way that allows people to grow.
In any activity (of any depth of complexity, that is) it is impossible to know everything about it. No matter what you find interesting you'll find someone who knows more about it than you do, and so there's an opportunity to learn. It's that opportunity to learn that helps you develop relationships with those who share your interests. Those relationships can be partnerships, with each of you learning different aspects of the activity and sharing those with each other and others in your circle, or they can develop into mentor/mentee relationships, with one of you having a deeper understanding and guiding the other along the path. As you develop your understanding and share that with others, they'll naturally be drawn to you as a guide on their path. This is where your leadership path begins.
A true leader is one who guides others along their path. Along the way decisions have to be made to benefit the group of people that forms to share the activity, but a leader makes those decisions with the goal of helping the group grow. As long as you are focused on helping people who look to you for advice and guidance you'll remain a leader of that group. With that guidance you can provide you'll develop relationships that can last a lifetime, that allow you to grow in ways you may not expect. Those relationships are really the most satisfying and the most rewarding, because they're based on respect.
Allen (@SQLRunr) is a Microsoft MVP and the Senior Technical Training Specialist for SentryOne. He's worked with SQL Server for more than 20 years in a variety of roles - developer, administrator, architect, analyst.