This is an essay from my popular 100 Days of Leadership Series. If you would like to learn how to become a leader in your organization, your community, or in your personal life, sign up here to receive these short essays directly to your inbox.
Like the roots of a tree, the roots of principled leadership dig deep beneath the soil, in all directions, and with a range far wider than what can be seen above ground.
Like a tree, your leadership will encounter many storms, strong winds, droughts, and the occasional lightning strike. The more roots you have, the easier it will be to nourish your leadership. The stronger roots you have, the easier it will be to stay upright and facing the right direction. The deeper roots you have, the more resolute you will stand in the face of the most difficult challenges.
Depending on who you ask, tree roots come in three primary forms: feeder roots, transport roots, and anchor roots, each playing their essential role in the growth of the tree. We’ve spent the first half of our 100 Days of Leadership growing each of these roots. And while eventually, you will want to master each one of these lessons, you’ll want to focus primarily on the anchor roots—the source of everything the tree becomes. They are the source of everything your leadership will become. So, before you begin to grow your tree above ground, before you are able to provide strength, shade, fruit, or guidance, let’s take a look at the strongest, deepest anchor roots we currently have in the soil:
- Permissionless Leadership. You don’t need permission to lead. You don’t need someone to tell you to take accountability. Be a leader. Our world needs it.
- Wear the Purple Tunic. If you’re afraid to look bad, you’ll never be an effective leader. Practice discomfort on your own terms. Because when discomfort and humiliation inevitably find you, you’ll be well prepared to handle it.
- Mimetic Theory of Leadership. Imitation is the fundamental mechanism of human behavior. If you want a job done the right way or if you want people to follow you, become the object of desire. Be the example you would want to follow.
- Finding Truth in a Hall of Mirrors. Three ways to find truth when surrounded by deception: triangulation, Occam’s Razor, and a keen sense of incentives.
- Think Like an Owner. Own the process, zoom out, and teach others. It’s only a matter of time. If you think like an owner, one day you will become one.
- Live the Long Game. While everyone is playing the long game, it’s your job as a leader to step up and own the long game. You have to be the long game. You have to live the long game. Or not at all.
- The Cure for Imposter Syndrome. Like the blue Eurybia butterfly of Central America, when you lean into and accept your imposter syndrome, a funny thing happens: it suddenly starts working for you.
- Third-Order Thinking. By mastering third-order thinking, you will have summitted the highest mountain of cognitive ability. You’ll be able to stand at the peak of the mountain, with a vantage point that no one else has.
- The Three I’s of Leadership. If you want to lead yourself, imitate. If you want to lead others, iterate. If you want to lead the world, innovate.
- Bowtie Theory of Influence. Like a bowtie, to become an influential leader, you must converge on yourself before you can expand to the world.
Each of the first 47 lessons in this series touches on areas of personal leadership principles, and what it takes to elevate yourself into positions of responsibility. Each lesson is critical in its own way, but these ten “anchor roots” are ones you will need to rely on each and every day as a leader. With your roots fixed firmly in place, with a strong foundation to withstand any challenge, we now begin to shift.
A tree is only as strong as its roots. Your leadership is only as strong as your principles. Every great leader is an oak tree with deep roots. In the next essay, we begin the process of growing your tree of leadership above ground.