Being a leader can be as rewarding and vexing as real life

There are no universal principles that allow only good days when you’re in a leadership role. In real life, we learn from our experiences and mistakes, hoping that when we encounter the same or a similar incident somewhere down the road, we are better equipped to handle it.

Likewise, experienced leaders, through trial and error and occasional dumb luck, fashion a reliable approach from pieces of life and work.

This combination of influences and factors comprises what I call the three essentials of leadership: education, experience and exposure. They represent the core of the personalized leadership system and must be assessed to identify instances that are critical as you develop your leadership approach. The first of the three essentials of leadership, education, is an important foundation for establishing and developing your leadership approach.

A college degree is evidence, in part, that you have mastered some of the technical competencies or meet one of the qualifications for a leadership role, but it is just the beginning. The professional development opportunities you undergo now and in the future are also important, as they equip you for some of the discrete aspects of the job.

My own early professional development included a fellowship program with the American Council on Education, which provided a broader understanding of how higher education institutions are organized and administered.

My stint at Harvard University’s Institute for Management and Leadership in Education considered more specific topics, such as strategic planning, financial and budget management and personnel development. I also attended the League for Innovation’ in the Community College’s Executive Leadership Institute, which was focused solely on preparing me for a community college presidency.

Beyond these, my different presidencies have offered numerous opportunities to learn from my colleagues on how to confront common challenges. I have contributed to these solutions, too, by sharing innovations that I applied at the colleges I have led.

Most of the dialogue between community college presidents occurs at national meetings of organizations like the American Association of Community Colleges and the League for Innovation. These professional associations employ commissions and committees that recommend how organizations can accomplish their strategic priorities, such as diversity and inclusion.

Each of these provided valuable educational opportunities, as well as expanded perspectives on the development and implementation of leadership.

Outside the professional realm, leaders often have ample opportunities to get involved in their local communities, contributing their time, talent, energy and treasure to activities and organizations that have a lasting impact.

Throughout my career, I have been privileged to serve on myriad boards that represent the interests of individuals from all walks of life. Among these are United Way organizations, whose commitments to youth, families, individuals with special needs and older Americans coincide with my own personal and professional interests.

Regardless of your field, by focusing on your own formal education, professional development, peer engagement and community involvement, you too can strengthen your skills and your effectiveness in leadership.

This is adapted from Alex Johnson’s forthcoming book, “Change the Lapel Pin,” published by Smart Business Books.