There is one topic receiving a lot of debate and discussion yet rarely seems to settle upon one clear definition. It is certainly a vital subject. Many of us interact with one daily, and some may consider themselves a primary candidate for this title. However, it is much easier to criticize someone in this position rather than be one. It is often a thankless and tireless job, which is none other than being a leader.
What it means to be a leader can be as diverse as being a human. There are countless levels of leadership, each with their own level of difficulty and responsibility. No doubt it is important to have leaders but how much do our lives depend on them? Are we not able to function without one? Is it impossible to reach success unless we are being led by an effective leader?
The need for leadership is likely engrained in human thinking. Our early ancestors required it for survival, and in the present day, it shows its importance in many aspects of our lives. What differentiates leaders is the level of responsibilities each one has. One person may oversee a few people with low risk, while another may manage a squad of hotshot firefighters who voluntarily risk their lives in the most perilous predicaments.
When it comes to our certain conditions, sometimes we have a choice whether we must heed their advice or carry on as usual. In some situations, as in the case of our employment, the option not to choose may be completely off the table.
How leadership is defined under each of these circumstances varies significantly. But it would stand to reason there are a few common characteristics that would outline some of the basic qualities of leadership.
The problem with most of our criticism towards leaders is that we have established our own ideals and guidelines of what comprises a leader. Any time someone – and especially those charged to lead us – steps out of those boundaries, they become easy targets of our condemnation and disapproval. And just as I have asked myself this same question before writing this article, what makes your idea of leadership the Gold Standard for us all?
A few weeks ago, I heard an interview which ignited many thoughts about this subject. A retired leader (who will remain nameless) had written a book and while discussing it with the interviewer, the concept of leadership came up. As best as I can recall, the author’s comment was this: “If you’re a leader and you’re not leading anyone, then you’re not a leader.”
I was so appalled with that portrayal I verbalized my disapproval out loud. After a few minutes of trying to quell my irritation, I revisited that quote hoping to understand it from their point of view. This person held a very high-ranking leadership position, and his experience ought to lead to valuable insights. Taking what was said at face value could make sense. If you are an army commander ready to engage the enemy and there are no troops behind you, there is no leadership. But if that were the case, that commander would have had to have been a horrible leader long before that battle.
After diligently trying, I could find no valid reason to accept that definition. If I were to consider myself a leader and had to get in front of a group because they’re not behind me, then I am just the “lead follower.” That is not a leader.
Leadership has so many different qualities and circumstances it is impossible to state them in any concise way. Recently though, I read two incredibly poignant descriptions which summarize it very well.
The first is a quote by the sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams. It reads, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
I found this inspiring simply because it allows an opportunity for everyone to be a leader. It doesn’t demand charisma, strength, or a certain skillset. More importantly, it’s an excellent way to live life every day. When our normal routine becomes a bit overwhelming, what can help us through the tough times is inspiring others. Seeing their smile from our words of encouragement lightens our load and brightens our day.
The next thought I read certainly wasn’t the first time this was ever stated, but it was a timely reminder of leadership. Devaki Sokaris is known for her amazing insights and recently, she replied to one of my posts saying, “Perhaps people should focus on leading by example rather than focusing on being leaders.”
This is another perfect example of how we can lead in our daily life. With extremely rare exceptions, we are not born into leadership roles, and simply being born in that position does not bestow leadership skills upon you. If you are questioning what the proper “example” is, think how you would prefer to be led.
Leadership is not a ticket granting you instant notoriety or power. If these are a part of any of your intentions then your purpose was never to be a leader but rather an authoritarian or a tyrant.
Most leaders rise to this position because of their concern and eagerness to do something about an unfair or troubled situation. They understand change needs to occur and it’s not important who is spearheading those changes, only that they must take place.
We must be careful whom we choose to follow. If their choices don’t reflect our ideals but you decide to follow them anyway, that does not relieve or exonerate us of any guilt from the mistakes you made following their directions. We must hold ourselves to the high standards we have set for anyone else in the lead.