If you define “leader” (as we often do here in America) as someone in charge of a company, team, or political party, then the answer is, “No, not just anyone can become a leader.” But that’s circumscribing the definition of leader excessively, because in reality there are countless types of leaders in every circumstance imaginable.
Everyone has qualities that leaders possess, but not everyone encounters the exact set of circumstances in life where those qualities can really shine and be recognized. Everyone can, however, develop their leadership qualities and put them to positive use in life every day, in and out of the workplace.
Subtle Differences Between Leadership and Influence
Leadership and influence are similar, but they’re not the same. Leaders definitely have influence, but not all influencers (even very highly respected ones) are in leadership positions. Leadership tends to affect people’s actions, which is why it’s so valued in the business world. Influence has more of an effect on people’s character, thought process, and values. Like the effective leader, the effective influencer develops positive qualities that reach people, whether on an individual level, or in ways that impact millions of people. Anyone can develop these qualities, whether or not they’re in a position to lead.
Developing Your Own Leadership Qualities
Though leadership resources and tools abound, plain common sense is necessary for good leadership. Understanding your most deeply held values is also a prerequisite for leadership: you have to know what you stand for. Additionally, leadership involves a certain amount of interacting with people, coaching them, and helping facilitate better performance from them. But leadership isn’t about achieving a static persona, or an unchanging skill set. Leaders must embrace change because it’s going to happen whether they want it to or not. Leaders are also willing to embody the changes they want to see in their organization, making it a place where people want to be and want to contribute.
It’s Not About Becoming a “Type”
Becoming a leader does not mean becoming someone you fundamentally are not. We all have our idea of what the “leader” straight from central casting looks and acts like, and while that type might be great for movies, it isn’t universal in the real world. Not even close. The “right” leader is right for the specific place, time, and situation in which he or she is placed, and not necessarily for all places, times, and situations. Someone may, for example, be the perfect person to lead a jury in a criminal or civil trial, while being completely wrong for leading a busy café during lunch hour, and vice versa.
Misconceptions About Leadership
Developing leadership qualities requires debunking several misconceptions about leadership too. For example, many people think they can’t be leaders since they’re not in a position of authority. But at the most fundamental level, people have authority over their own values, actions, and decisions, and should honor that authority appropriately. Many people think introverts can’t be great leaders, but would anyone have labeled Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks as an extrovert?
Finally, some people contend that if everyone is a leader, who’s going to follow? The truth is, nobody leads in everything. You wouldn’t say that if everyone sings lead vocals, who will sing harmony? The best leaders step in and out of their role as leader gracefully, depending on the situation.
Leadership Skills Are Beneficial Even for Those Who Don’t Want to Lead
Not everyone can be the “leader” as it’s most commonly defined in 21st-century popular culture. But everyone can develop their leadership qualities and use the influence they have in positive ways. These qualities and skills serve people well no matter what their position in life, and they ensure that when a situation arises that requires their particular skills, qualities, and knowledge, they’ll be ready to step in, lead, and make the path smoother and better for everyone.
My books explore important themes in leadership and responsibility, and are designed for anyone who pursues excellence, whether in the boardroom, on the job site, or in the community. I invite you to have a look at them and consider using them to assist in your own personal development as a leader and a human being.