Why Leadership is Important to Everyone and How We Can All Be Better Leaders

Are you born a leader or born to leadership?
Photo by fauxels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-people-looking-on-laptop-3182812/

You may not have been born a leader, but you were born to lead

Do you think of yourself as a leader?

Maybe leadership feels natural to you. Or perhaps, you don’t feel like a leader, even if you are in a management position.

In my case, for a long time, I didn’t think I was a leader. I certainly did not feel that I was born a leader or that I encompassed what I thought were key leadership qualities, such as large amounts of charisma, power, and self-confidence.

But then, much to my surprise I was given some small management roles and (hiding my insecurity) I started to lead others. I won a scholarship with the military and became an Army Officer, gaining invaluable leadership training and practical experience in command. 

From there, I have gone on to various leadership roles with increasing levels of responsibility. As well as leading a large organisation, I coach senior leaders, write a regular leadership column, and facilitate leadership courses. 

But you would never have predicted that if you had seen me in my early years. So, what happened? What made the difference?

The 3 Simple Truths of Leadership

The shift for me was gradual, but I can now point to three simple (but revolutionary) truths that have impacted my leadership journey. These are: 

  1. Leadership is all about influence
  2. Everyone is a leader to some extent
  3. We can all improve and develop our leadership

These truths now drive my purpose. I help others in their leadership path and often this involves de-bunking unhelpful assumptions about what a leader is. And this is an inclusive approach to leadership; everyone can lead and get better at leading. 

I love adventure (it is one of my core values) and I like to think of life as a journey. On our road, we often meet or travel alongside others. Each meeting is an opportunity, no matter how long or short the time is that we spend together. With every interaction with others, I think, “What can we teach each other that will make us better leaders and equip us for the next stage of our adventure?” 

Therefore, even though we are not together in person now, this is still a moment of connection. I hope some of my thoughts will help you on your journey.

What is the definition of leadership?

Before we unpack the 3 truths of leadership a little more, let’s first define our terms. Specifically, let’s define what we mean by leadership.

There are many definitions of leadership. W.C.H. Prentice, in his famous HBR article of 1961 defined leadership as:

“The accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants”

W.C.H Prentice

Most people think about leadership in these terms. It is about one person using other people to get stuff done.

However, this definition does not quite capture all types of leadership. For example, what about self-leadership, followership, 360-degree leadership, or thought leadership? 

Therefore, my favourite definition of leadership is that of author John C. Maxwell who says that leadership is, in its essence, influence.

“Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” 

John C. Maxwell

Thus, I would define leaders as people who use their influence (or power) to initiate change.

How can everyone be a leader? Am I a leader?

With this definition, of leadership as influence, we can now see the logic of how everyone is, to some degree, a leader. This is because we all have a measure of influence, on ourselves and others.

“Everyone is a leader because everyone influences someone.” 

John C. Maxwell

The term influence is synonymous with power, but I prefer the term influence. That is mainly due to how people view themselves. If you ask someone “Are you powerful?” very few people would say yes. However, if you ask someone “Do you have a degree of influence, on yourself and others?” then most people would recognise that they do. 

Even when people protest that they have little influence on others, they can see that they do have influence on themselves. This is self-leadership. And we all have friends, families, associates, and colleagues who we interact with. Every interaction we have creates little micro changes in ourselves and our environment. So, even if small, our influence is important, because it affects the people we love most. 

Therefore, we need to think about what we want to do with our influence. What changes do we want to initiate? To step up as leaders, all we need to think about is what future we are trying to create. What is the positive world that we are trying to bring about in people and our environment?

We can all be better: leadership requires a growth mindset

That change starts with us. It is a choice, committing to self-improvement and then to lead ourselves and others better. The first vision we need is one for ourselves. What is the better version of us that we want to grow into? What sort of leader do you want to be? If we want effective change, we need a clear picture of what we want to change into. 

“Be the leader you wish you had.” 

Simon Sinek

And that growth never stops. You may be a new team lead or the CEO of a large company, but the simple fact remains; we can all improve our performance. Therefore, no matter how far along our leadership journey we are, we all need time to reflect and work out what we work on next. 

There are many different tools that can help us assess our strengths and weaknesses or identify areas for growth. One useful framework is that of Robert Katz who breaks down skills into technicalhuman, and conceptual competencies. You can find a breakdown of these in the article Which Leadership Skill Do You Need to Develop Most

Once you have decided upon an area for development you can start to experiment and learn. A growth mindset is dependent upon experiential learning. As with David Kolb’s learning cycle, we have an experience, we then reflect on it and we think about conceptual tools that can help us. Then we experiment with applying those concepts, thereby creating a new experience, and so the cycle starts again. We might make mistakes, and some things might not work, but by following this cycle we fail forward; always learning and progressing. 

And if you are really committed to self-improvement then there are various leadership training programmes and executive coaching options that you can consider. 

Are leaders born or made?

No one is born a fully-fledged leader, and no one is a leader by birthright. We should not see someone as either a born leader or not.

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”

Vince Lombardi

So we can dispense with Great Man Theory; the idea that some people are destined from birth to be the makers of history. But, if leadership is influence and we all have some influence, then we are all born with some capability to be leaders in that respect.

You may not have been born a leader but you were born to lead.

Whether we recognise that fact, develop ourselves, increase our influence and have a positive effect? That is a personal choice.

So, what choice will you make?

“A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential. Leadership is not about titles or the corner office. It’s about the willingness to step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage.”

Brené Brown

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