How can I become a leader? This question pops up quite often with the assumption that there is some magic formula for leadership lying around somewhere. There isn’t. People want us to tell them “the five easy steps to become a leader”. But, they don’t exist. How great it would be if leadership could be reduced to a simple formula. We only wish that it were this easy and that we had the answer.
We would be famous!
Whenever you see a book or hear of a training program promising that by following their proven method you will become a great leader, instead of signing up, be very wary of their promise. You do not become a leader simply by what you read or attend.
This does not mean that any self-improvement through literature or training is impossible. By all means, it is imperative that you develop behavioral qualities and skills if you want to lead. Case in point, leadership requires certain behavioral qualities like character, vision and creativity. Without these characteristics it is difficult for a person to lead.
Think about this, would you want to follow a person with no vision? What if she or he were not a person of character? Would you follow this person? The answer is a resounding no. We are sure that you desire to follow a person that inspires you and that you respect. Now ask yourself this question, what do people see when they look at me as a leader? Do others want to emulate me?
Throughout our careers, we have heard it said, repeatedly, Leadership requires thick skin. One of our favorite quotes on leadership is, “Unless you are being kicked in the rear, you are not in the lead.” Leadership is challenging and will bring with it resistance. Therefore, it is important that a leader have the skills of resilience, expertise in their field, and cultural fluency.
In leadership there is no room for the sole proprietor. If no one is following, you are not leading. The priority of leadership is working well with people. It requires skills to build partnerships and alliances. Leaders must be able to communicate and collaborate well with others.
One of the major facets of leadership is developing others; it is not good enough to have other people follow you. Every person who leads is in a role to coach others. Coaching sees the potential in others and then develops and encourages that potential. Leaders who coach are known for the people they develop.
It is also important for leaders to know how to share their knowledge. Great leaders are known more for what they give away than what they do. What knowledge are you giving away?
One last point about the skills for leadership is that a leader must have a global perspective. There is no denying or escaping the fact that the world is interconnected at so many levels. On any given day, we are exposed to and influenced by the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the West. Learning to leverage this global network of mutuality will increase your opportunities abroad and at home.
You must realize, however, that acquiring a certain behavior and skills doesn’t automatically make you a leader. It’s just a starting point, and what you do next is what determines your leadership. It is also about you, your belief in yourself as a leader and what you do with the skills in order to achieve results.
For decades leadership has been taught as a science. The “experts” have taken the subject matter of leadership into the laboratory and dissected it and put it through all sorts of rigorous testing. The result was a simple formula. The world then applauded the “experts” and their experiments, without ever realizing that the experiment wasn’t over.
We have talked to people all around the world who have adopted the findings of these “experts” and failed miserably. Had they tested the results, they would have observed that the “experts” findings are unfounded. Why? Because leadership is not a science.
Leadership is an art.
Imagine with us what it would be like if today we went to the best leadership seminar in the world. While there, we heard fantastic teaching on the skills of leadership, and we actually believed that we could become great leaders. Then tomorrow we returned to work with our memorized tools, but with no action on incorporating them into our life. Are we leaders? Are we any better off? No! On the contrary, we are worse off, because we think we have become leaders, but in reality we have no idea.
This realization shows us that leadership is an art, a real art. Think about how ridiculous this scenario would be: You go to the art store and buy all of the supplies. You select the best brushes; you purchase oil paints in so many vibrant colors. You decide on a top quality canvas and have it stretched perfectly. Then you top it all off with a fabulous dark blue French beret and return to your rented studio and put up a sign that says: “Artist.” Are you really a professional painter? For that matter are you even a run-of-the-mill painter? You could be, only if you know what to do with the supplies that you purchased and if you actually use them. Becoming a painter is much more than the accumulation of the supplies and becoming a leader is more than amassing your skills. Art, and leadership, appears from what you do with what you already have.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said…”There always has been difficulty in understanding and practicing real leadership. That’s because it is more of an art than a science.”
So, let’s now ask the first question again. Is it possible for anyone to become a leader? Yes, if they believe that it’s possible, acquire and express the skills of leadership. But, you may quickly argue, “What if I am not in a position of leadership?!” Answer: since when did the position make someone a leader? We have all observed many men and women who have the title, the office and the position, but they still are not great leaders. We can also list many people who do not have the position, the office or the authority, yet they are great leaders.
Think back to the elementary school playground. We do not know about your school, but at the schools we attended, there were not any designated leadership positions on the playground for the kids. Still, some kids took charge and led. Just for fun, visit the local playground during recess and observe the leadership that some of the students exert.
The business world is full of people who work in front-
line jobs and express great leadership; and many who hold the positions but do not lead. From our experience, we can assure you that we did not get to where we are by waiting on someone to give us a position of leadership in order to lead. We did and we do lead wherever we are.
So, no matter where you are, whether, you are a general manager or a clerk in the back office, you can lead. After all, all you have to remember is that leadership is the art or expression of all your skills. How do you do this?
Great question! Let’s go back to the painting example. Say, that you want to become a great painter. You buy the supplies, then what? Along with learning how to use the supplies, you need to remember that you have to just use them. The paint isn’t going to put itself on the canvas.
To become a leader, you start where you are with what is in your sphere of influence, believe that you have the ability and identify the skills that you need to learn more about. Look above and select areas that you need to acquire more training or information about. Then do it. Act! Once you have learned about the skill, by reading or attending a seminar, start using it. You only lead by taking action.
Leadership is this simple – believe in yourself, understand the skill and express it.
Be the Best!
By Tommy Weir and Christine Crumrine, from the Beirut-
based CrumrineWeir, the global leadership experts. For more information, visit www.crumrineweir.com