If you find yourself seeking to improve your leadership skills, remember this: Leadership is a journey, so enjoy the ride. And just when you think you've arrived at the top of the mountain, look up: You'll always find another peak to climb.

This is what an old sage told me when I hit thirtysomething.

Actually, back then a few wise business leaders who were further down the road than I told me I'd need to learn several things in order to attain their level of success. They saw right through me and they knew where I was headed (not a good place).

I didn't listen then, and sure enough, it cost me. I hope you don't make the same mistake. Here are the lessons I wish I got right the first time. 

1. Remember that humility trumps arrogance.

The best leaders demonstrate humility (like Level 5 Leaders documented in Jim Collins' Good to Great) and turn away from selfish interests. While not exactly a "power" word, research continues to define and validate humility's leadership effect on others.

Collins determined from his own extensive research that these respected leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness.

In essence, humble leaders achieve greatness without arrogance. They shift from ego to humility, which can drastically alter the outcome to their advantage.

2. Go out of your way to soak up the wisdom of others.

Smart leaders continually evolve by soaking up the wisdom of others, acknowledging that they don't know it all. Someone once remarked, "?If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room."

Leaders with a growth mindset rotate from one room to another to absorb new knowledge by young and old alike. They view themselves as a small fish in the great big pond of life -- seeking out connections and appointments with others to learn new things they can bring back to their work.

3. Practice patience. Then practice it some more.

A leader who practices patience and is slow to anger receives less attention and acclaim than a charismatic leader with a commanding presence but a short fuse. Yet the former has the clear edge.

If you're displaying a lack of patience that manifests itself in f-bomb dropping hissy fits, it can hurt you much more than it does those around you.

People who lack patience are easily provoked. They lack perspective and can't stop their impulse from jumping to the worst conclusions. And they're often seen as being unforgiving and stirring up conflict.

On the flip side, people who exercise patience have self-control, so their conduct is steady, rational, and manageable. When things start to get heated, a patient person seeks to understand first before being understood; they speak little, which gives them a clear edge in communicating and diffusing someone else's anger.

4. Always choose integrity -- over and over and over.

As the saying goes, doing the right thing, even when no one is looking, isn't always easy, but it may just save your rear. I was once faced with an assignment that tested my integrity -- being tasked with lying to a client to save an account. I heard that inner voice whisper, "It's not worth it, you're being set up." I refused to do it, and was told my services were no longer needed. After leaving the company in complete peace and with a clear conscience, I landed a great position weeks later with a reputable company that took my career to another level.

Listen, integrity is a choice we must keep making over and over again. When you walk the talk, the benefits are tremendous:

  • You don't question yourself.
  • You command respect.
  • You know truth.
  • Your confidence shines for others.
  • You have influence -- people listen to your words because they trust your character.