Winston Churchill. Ghandi. John Wooden. Mother Teresa. Martin Luther King Jr. Julius Caesar. Moses. These are just of few of ancient and current history’s greatest leaders in their respective discipline. We would all be better people having studied their leadership qualities.
When we dissect the lives of people such as these, we probably grant them more credit than is due for their innate abilities. The statement “He’s a naturally born leader” comes from our mouth as the gospel truth and does them a disservice, as though their leadership capacity and thus future destiny was handed to them on a silver platter. They did not rise to their elite level of standing merely because of something that was gifted to them at birth. While perhaps gifted in some way, each had to learn to lead.
Leadership Can Be Learned
I’ll admit to falling for the “you have it or you don’t” leadership trap for most of my adult life. Even though I’ve been placed in various positions of leadership, I failed to understand my need to learn and grow in my role as a leader. That is until I began reading literature on leadership several years ago. Yes…there are “how to” books on leadership.
The first leadership book I ever read was The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell. For anyone in a position of leadership (which is really all of us at some level – more on that in a moment), this book is a must read as it outlines the 21 basic laws that every leader must understand in order to grow and successful lead their followers. The more of these laws a person can understand and implement to some degree in their lives the better chance they have to expand their leadership reach.
That was a revelation to me as I read him describe the process in the introduction. Really…leadership can be learned? It can be acquired no matter one’s age, temperament or personal history? I can actually practice these laws and apply them in the various circumstances of my life?
It was as if the proverbial light had gone off in my head.
Looking back, I don’t understand why this concept didn’t register with me sooner. We learn many tasks in life – from walking, to playing the piano, to cooking, to riding a bike. All those require training, practice, and mentoring – why would leadership be any different. Why would it only be an innate quality?
My study of the Bible should have clued me into the “leadership can be learned” philosophy as well. Individuals such as the aforementioned Moses and others like Joshua, King David, Esther, Jesus’ disciples, and the missionary Paul weren’t leaders on their own accord. They required training, seasoning and teaching before serving in a leadership capacity. Once they had it and exercised it, people followed them in droves.
I’m beginning to think this is something we just don’t think about often. Probably again because we think leadership comes naturally and don’t see ourselves as one. We hold no position of authority at work, perhaps don’t have a family to lead and aren’t involved overseeing a ministry at a church or other non-profit.
We picture leaders as those in charge…as those who direct and guide…as those who have visions and impart them on others. So if I feel that I don’t fall into any of those categories, I don’t consider myself a leader.
That’s a mistake. The truth is…
We Are All Leaders Because…
When you boil it down to its most basic element, leadership is influence. If you don’t have it you cannot lead others.
“But I don’t have any influence! Nobody listens to me so I can’t be a leader!”
Wrong. We all have influence in one way or another.
Sociologists have been saying for years that even the most introverted among us will influence at least 10,000 people over the course of our lifetime. That makes sense when you really stop to think about it. Not just the people you see everyday but those daily interactions made in passing add up year after year.
So we have the ability to influence (lead) others just in our everyday interactions. If we become good enough at it, we may then get the chance to lead in an official capacity. Regardless, we all lead somehow.
The best part is that we can even learn to influence. Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People plus one of John Maxwell’s newer books Everyone Communicates, Few Connect have both been helpful reads for me. Being a dyed-in-the-wool introvert I’m still learning to reach out to people and be an influence. Many, many times I stumble.
But at least I know influence can be learned, as can all the other qualities like boldness, sacrifice, dependability and integrity that we typically associate with leaders. The fact that I can get better at those gives me hope.
Questions: Do you consider yourself a leader? Do you agree that at its most basic element leadership is influence? What one or two leadership qualities do you think are most valuable to attain?
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Prior Post: Does God Want Me To Attend College?