It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows. – Epictetus

People find themselves in leadership roles for a variety of reasons. While some are very intentional throughout their career in their progression to becoming a leader, many people are accidental leaders. They find themselves in a leadership role by circumstance.

A typically scenario plays out when someone is great at their job and gets noticed for their high level of proficiency by their superiors. There’s a belief that if someone excels at something, they must be capable of training and leading others in their area of expertise. A great example of this is in the world of sales. Often times, the highest performing sales person will be tapped to take over the department as the sales manager. Sometimes this transition from being an individual contributor to a leader is seamless and effective… but often times it’s not. The skills that got the sales professional to the top sales board are quite different from the skills necessary to motivate and lead a team to success.

Another example is in the world of athletics. How often to you see a star athlete attempt to jump into the coaching ranks when their athletic career has ended. Again, sometimes the results are great as the coach elevates with the necessary leadership skills, but this is the exception to the rule and not the norm.

Reflecting back, I wish I would have been trained in the fundamentals of strong and effective leadership at the start of my career now over 30 years ago. I learned mostly through observation, some mentorship and by trial and error, but having a program to help me understand what leadership is all about and to develop me as a leader would potentially have accelerated my growth. I was just unaware at the time.

This is why I am so passionate about what I do as an Executive Coach, Mentor and leadership trainer. Teaching, coaching and helping current and emerging leaders shorten the learning curve and accelerate growth is so fulfilling. It serves them as well as the people on their team.

My advice to young professionals and emerging leaders is to be intentional and learn the fundamentals of leadership. Understand the theories and why they matter. The importance of developing one’s soft skills associated with strong leadership is often overshadowed by developing technical expertise. However, surveys and research on the topic have discovered that career success is associated more with one’s EQ (Emotional Intelligence) than it is with one’s IQ (Cognitive abilities). IQ gets you on the playing field but EQ gets you the ball to score a touchdown.

Here are Six ideas for learning the fundamentals of leadership, and developing your leadership skills. The sooner you start, the better!:

  1. Find a Mentor: A Mentor is someone who is more experienced than you and is willing to give you advice and feedback. They have ‘been there’ and can share their stories of success and failure to guide you in the right direction.
  2. Hire a Coach: A Coach is a professional who can help you discover your best self by asking thought provoking questions, as well as provide you with feedback and support. Like the coach on the sideline, they can help you develop your playbook for your leadership journey and hold you accountable for executing the plays.
  3. Self Educate: Read lots. There’s a bazillion (yes, a large number) of books on leadership. Watch TED Talks. Listen to Podcasts. It’s all there for you to acquire.
  4. Corporate Leadership Training Courses: If your company offers leadership training, by all means take advantage of it! Firstly, the fact they support your professional development is a huge YES for your leadership team, and shows they care about your career. And if they also provide coaching as a follow up to the training program… even better!
  5. Go back to School: Many Colleges and Universities offer degrees or certificates related to leadership.
  6. Join a Leadership Network: Associate and learn with other leaders in a leadership peer network, like Vistage. What better way to learn and grow than with a diverse group of leaders with vast experiences, facilitated by an experience coach.
    Investing in your leadership development is important, whether it’s early, mid or late career. Learn about the fundamentals of leadership, then discover your personal style. Then practice, practice, practice and never stop learning, adapting and improving.

Leadership is a fluid process that never stops evolving, and takes a life time to develop. Start your journey today!


Troy Jacobson is an Executive Coach, Leadership Trainer, Vistage CEO Coach and operates the Jacobson Leadership Academy. Learn more and take your leadership to the next level by visiting his website at

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