Lessons in Leadership


Like most of us, I closely followed the election race for mayor on Hilton Head Island. Now that the elections are over, it’s time to get to work. Whether we like it or not, Hilton Head and Bluffton are at a “strategic inflection point.” Our citizens and community leaders must come together and begin a dialogue driven by positive thinking. We can no longer allow ourselves to be driven backward by naysayers.

Leaders should set the tone, and I have spent some time thinking about the behaviors that have the greatest chance of producing positive results. Recently, a very close friend decided to retire from business and politics to focus on the fight of his life against stage 4 cancer. As his parting gift to his co-workers, he outlined 10 lessons about “What Leaders Do.” I thought I would share this with our community.

Lesson 1: “If you want to lead the business, you have to know the business, and that means doing the work of business.”

In the case of Hilton Head’s government, this means knowing the island, its people and the social dynamics of our community. It also means knowing how the town government works. In the case of community leadership, experience counts.

Lesson 2: “Leaders do the jobs that need doing, not only the ones they enjoy.”

Elected leaders need to be able to roll up their sleeves and do the heavy lifting. This is most important in times of community stress. Hilton Head, with a population of just over 40,000, has an infrastructure that serves over 2 million visitors a year.

Lesson 3: “Leaders know that everyone needs training, and they embrace it no matter how much they feel they already know. 

Leaders know what they know and more importantly, they know what they don’t know. Leaders are lifelong learners. 

Lesson 4: “Leaders know that good ideas are not enough if you can’t also be persuasive.”

Wow, is this a blinding flash of the obvious or what? Particularly in politics and government, good ideas come by the boatload but only a few get implemented because the sale wasn’t completed. 

Lesson 5: “Growth is critical if a leader hopes to increase his or her impact.”

A community will be successful if it can continue to grow and level the playing field for all its members. To help the community grow economically, a leader must create an environment where diverse populations work together and quit fighting over who has the better idea. 

Lesson 6: “Great leaders build teams.”

Enough said. 

Lesson 7: “Leaders build strong personal relationships, even with their adversaries.”

Ronald Reagan is the poster boy for this lesson. We can only be successful if we continue to have dialogue. Too often, we shut off our adversaries and build walls. This approach will fail every time.

Lesson 8: “Leaders find a way to balance all aspects of their lives.” 

This is easy to say but so difficult to do — particularly in town government, where there are so many priorities pulling leaders in numerous directions. It is critical for a leader to create balance among his or her work life, personal life and spiritual life

Lesson 9: “Giving back is what great leaders do.”

It might seem strange that this lesson would be important for someone in public office, but it seems that all too many public servants are focused on themselves to the exclusion of those they are elected to serve. 

Lesson 10: “Stay healthy.”

Stress is dangerous, and its side effects can cause harm. Town leaders need to look after their personal health so they can serve.

Elihu Spencer is a local amateur economist with a long business history in global finance. His life work has been centered on understanding credit cycles and their impact on local economies. The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources considered reliable, but the accuracy cannot be guaranteed.