Course notes: The Psychology of Leadership by Tal Ben-Shahar (Part 1)

Oct 16, 2016 · Leadership

Recently I stumbled upon a brilliant Youtube playlist with video recordings of the lectures to the course on “The Psychology of Leadership” by Tal Ben-Shahar. Ben-Shahar shares some interesting thoughts and concepts about leadership and offers practical advice. The official course description states “How can leaders – in the business sector, politics, or education – create an environment that facilitates growth? Topics include transformational leadership, personal identity, change, ethics, peak experience and peak performance, motivation, and systems thinking.”

As I haven’t found any other summaries or notes to the course online, I thought about sharing mine. I will break them down into several posts with 3-4 lectures each, but as a preface, let’s start with the notes to the first lecture of “The Psychology of Leadership”.

1. Introduction

Link: The Psychology of Leadership – 1. Introduction

This course is primarily for people who want to make a difference in the world. But foremost, it’s for people who want to make a difference in their lives. We cannot develop as leaders, if we do not develop ourselves: personal development is leadership development.

“The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons […]” – Confucius

Leadership starts with oneself.

To really get the most out of this course, reading is not enough. Leadership means practicing and putting in the work.

Leaders have two characteristics: 1. They have a deep desire and 2. they are always asking questions and are always curious. They always want to develop, whether it’s as leaders, as parents, as students, as friends…

There are two types of leaders. The first group covers obvious people like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King… but there are also quite leaders, people who are not in the limelight (soldiers, teachers, parents…)

“Of all the will toward the ideal in mankind only a small part can manifest itself in public action. All the rest of this force must be content with small and obscure deeds. The sum of these, however, is a thousand times stronger than the acts of those who receive wide public recognition. The latter, compared to the former, are like the foam on the waves of a deep ocean.” – Albert Schweitzer

Leadership is a skill and you cannot learn a skill in a class room. This is as true for leadership as it is for skills like any kind of sports or playing an instrument.

The focus of this course is to observe positive and negative role models and then to apply the learnings and test them in the real world. This is how we learn skills.

The fastest and most lasting learning is produced when people are engaged in finding real solutions to real problems.

“Skills cannot be mastered by reading books, listening to lectures, or doing case analyses. Instead, skill training involves observation of positive models (i.e. of people whose behavior illustrates highly competent execution of that which is being taught) coupled with repeated practice and feedback.” – Richard Hackman

Action – Reflection. This simple concept is the foundation to the most effective leadership programs available.

In order to be effective, the action needs to be meaningful to us and it has to be challenging (get us out of our comfort zones). This is why our own lives are the best basis to learn from this course: it is certainly meaningful and there is always something challenging. Why is this so valuable? Because there are a lot of leadership experiences in our daily lives, but we don’t take advantage of them.