Many, if not most, people doubt their ability to be leaders, and that’s unfortunate.
It’s good to think of leadership outside the corporate setting.
In most cases, that line of reasoning depends upon rigid, perhaps stereotypical definitions of what leadership means. Here are some of the reasons why people think they can’t be leaders:
- They’re not in a position of authority
- They’re introverted
- How can everyone be a leader? Aren’t followers also necessary?
- Leadership means power, and power means corruption
All of these reasons can be refuted, and in fact, have been by people who became remarkably influential despite not fitting the central casting image of a “leader.” Not everyone can become a leader in the sense of having authority or influence over huge numbers of people. But everyone can develop their leadership qualities and use them in their everyday life, even if the only person they lead is the one they see in the mirror.
Leadership Is Context-Dependent
The context of our lives as individuals and in society is constantly changing, and not just because we live in a technologically advanced world. Read Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 of the Hebrew Bible and you’ll see that time has spun in cycles throughout recorded history. There is indeed a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.
Likewise, the need for leadership changes. Nations need leadership, and individuals need leadership, and who fulfills those roles is not simply a function of who wears a label of power. You may have never functioned as a traditional leader in your life, but today or any day your exact combination of experience and insight may be called upon by a situation.
Anyone Can Develop Their Core Leadership Qualities
What are the most fundamental leadership qualities? They include honesty, integrity, commitment, passion, communication, accountability, and creativity. Clearly, you don’t need a job title with “vice president” in the name to possess and to make the most of these qualities. The most important way to develop these qualities is, of course, to practice them in everyday life.
The qualities that make good leaders are the same ones that make good human beings in general.
If you have the opportunity to participate in leadership development programs or to engage in leadership coaching, I urge you to do so, whether or not you pursue a professional leadership track. Leadership qualities aren’t just important when it comes to planning budgets and managing projects. They matter throughout human interaction, and anyone can benefit from developing their leadership qualities.
Leadership and Authority Not Inextricably Yoked
We tend to think that leadership and authority always go together. Often they do, particularly when it comes to high-profile leadership positions. But while authority requires leadership, leadership does not always require authority.
Leadership frequently demands that we step outside our “comfort zone,” and when we’re willing to do that, we not only grow and develop as individuals, we help others do the same. In fact, if you think about the last time you had to step outside your comfort zone, there’s a good chance you were doing so because in some capacity your leadership was needed in that moment.
Maybe your child needed help with a trigonometry concept that you hadn’t visited in decades. Maybe a young goat had his horns stuck in a fence in the back pasture. Or maybe you simply recognized that you’ve been slacking in some area of your life and it’s time to turn things around. All of these situations call upon leadership. And the more you have worked on those fundamental leadership qualities like integrity and commitment, the better you will rise to the challenge.
Anyone can be called upon to lead at any time, in any situation. Everyone has the ability to develop the key qualities that make good leaders. The number of people called upon to lead in a formal, organizational context may be small, but they don’t succeed without those same, fundamental attributes that all people of good character possess.
If you are interested in leadership in the organizational context, I encourage you to check out my books. In particular, Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential addresses key leadership attributes, how they vary from one individual to the next, and how to put your unique strengths to work for you and for those who depend on you.