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Editor’s Note: UPDATED as of October 18, 2016 for relevance and accuracy.
It’s time we all stepped up and developed the mindset that leadership is NOT a position.
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu
We all play a role as a leader in many different areas of our lives. Most of the time, we’re not aware of the impact we have on others.
Think about the role of moms at home, teaching toddlers to walk and talk. Or teenagers, captains of sports teams, or people organizing the school social.
We tend to think of ‘leaders’ as being part of the workforce, or part of the political sphere. However, there are leaders everywhere, woven into every fiber that makes up the fabric of our society.
Leadership is not a position – it’s a mindset.
Leadership is defined by the way you think and the way you behave. We all have the capability to be leaders. It shows up most when we are composed, focused, driven by inspiration and we motivate those around us with our passion and our enthusiasm.
We have leaders all around us. Leadership, in essence, is:
- Influence and governance.
Think for a moment about how many times you’ve used those words in some way, shape or form, in your lifetime.
Think about how many times you’ve had someone tell you that, because of you or because of your words of wisdom, they made different choices in life?
Think about how many times somebody has thanked you because, if it weren’t for you, they would not be where they are today?
We never really realize that we’ve had an impact or an influence until someone tells us so. Even then, not everyone will have that courage. But the resounding truth is that we each have that power within us everyday. More than most of us ever acknowledge.
Aristotle explains how every human being is bred with a unique set of potentials that yearn to be fulfilled as surely as the acorn yearns to become the oak within it. This means that every acorn is a potential oak. With the right conditions, something as small and insignificant as an acorn will become a mighty oak tree. In other words, we ALL have the potential to be a leader.
Strong Leadership Starts with Vision
A strong leader has a vision. A vision is an aim, a destination, or what you want to create for your future.
Ask yourself: if you don’t have a vision, then how do you know where to go?
It’s like jumping into your car, driving around with no direction, no purpose and no destination. However, if you keyed in your destination into your Google maps, now you know where you are going – and you’ll find many ways to get there.
Having a vision of where you want to be is your greatest asset. This is YOU creating your blue print. This is how you create your leadership mindset. Having the right mindset is how you become influential. Helen Keller says it perfectly:
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
A vision is not just a picture; it could be a feeling or behavior of what you aspire to be. Once you have your vision, what are you going to focus on? What kind of actions come to mind? What are you going to be accountable for?
Do as I Say, Not as I Do
After countless studies about the impact of our environment, we know that children, siblings, parents, and coworkers will follow our example – not necessarily our advice. In saying that, true leaders don’t create followers. They create leaders. Leadership is not a position because it is more about inspiration and the journey. It’s not about the outcome or amassing a troupe of underlings.
So, what does a great leader look like? Here are some characteristics that I believe make a great leader:
- Clear communicator – Someone who says what they mean and means what they say. Actions speak louder than words, so a clear communicator needs to set a good example too, otherwise all that talk can be demotivating.
- Passionate – Inspirational people always, always, always love what they do. It’s their sheer enjoyment that becomes infectious and it’s inspiring because other people want to feel that way too.
- Personable – Good at developing relationships. This is not necessarily an extrovert, either; this is simply someone who genuinely likes to get to know other people.
- Open listener – Capable of listening to understand, rather than listening to reply. Mindful that theirs is not the only point of view that counts and good ideas come from anywhere!
- Flexible – Can change plans if need be. Can refocus and recommit even when circumstances change.
- Respectful – Recognizing that everyone has unique individual talents and strengths, dreams and beliefs, and motivations. Even when they are different from our own, they are just as valid.
- Open to feedback – Great leaders know that growth comes from change. They are willing to open themselves up to receive feedback – from people and from experiences –and they use those lessons to stretch and aim to better themselves.
- Trusting – This trait opens the way for others to feel encouraged to contribute in a meaningful way. Allowing people to make mistakes, allowing people to learn and to have experiences that give them opportunities to be the very best version of themselves that they can be.
Mind Your Non-Verbal Signals
Trust is a big word. It is the foundation for authentic relationships.
Did you know that if you don’t trust someone, without ever uttering a word, they pick up on it? About 55 percent of our communication is non-verbal communication; it is our physiology doing all the talking. So, the fact that you have decided not to trust a certain individual, or you see them as unreliable, means you unconsciously behave this way.
This is where your non-verbal communication (body language) is speaking volumes. And guess what? You’ll get the exact result that you see or think. Because we’re wired that way. Whatever we expect, is pretty much what we’ll get. So start thinking more positively and give people the benefit of the doubt even when you’re not sure.
Take it from me; trust is the key – in your personal relationships and your professional ones, and your own journey. When you start to trust, there is no limit to what you can achieve! For the timid souls who just aren’t sure, there are ways you can develop and strengthen your ability to trust.
You just have to take the first step.