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The Most Basic Thing I Never Understood About Leadership


Leadership can be learned.

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.

Leadership Clueless

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?

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Next Post: How to Make a Thousand Dollars in a Month on the Side With a Blog

Prior Post: Does God Want Me To Attend College?

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  1. I followed the belief that leaders are born not made for most of my life. Then one day I had the realization that leaders can be made too. I wouldn’t call myself a leader simply because I like to stay in the background. I guess though you could call me a leader by example. I won’t get in your face and tell you how to work, etc. but I will show you if you just pay attention.

  2. I consider myself to be quite the shy, anti-social introvert. However, when I was training to become a group exercise instructor, it never really cross my mind until I actually got my certification and started teaching that I was a leader. I was a leader to people taking my classes and had the power to influence them to lift heavier, push harder and jump higher. I noticed I had an influence on people when they would go to several of my classes or consistently come every week to my class.

    After realizing that, I made it a point to try and prepare myself for class as best as I could and demonstrate strength and athleticism to the best of my ability. I wanted (and still want to ) to inspire them and make them believe that if they do take on challenges, they will change for the better.

    • Thanks for sharing that story. It’s a real encouragement to those (like me) who share those introvert tendencies. I think often times we use our introvert-ness as an excuse. It gives us an easy out to not step forward and lead.

  3. You have to have the confidence to be a leader and that comes from within. That said, the inspiration can come from others and that can come from watching others or having someone believe in you. I’m a good leader and I believe a lot of that came from a time in junior high, which was pretty rough for me, but a teacher I really liked once told me in a one on one conversation “You’re going to be a leader someday.” I didn’t turn into a leader right then and there, but I always had that in my mind and when the time was right, I was able to use her belief in me to start becoming a successful leader.

    • ““You’re going to be a leader someday.” What a powerful moment! I had a principal basically say the same thing to me when I was in the 5th grade. I remember that short conversation all these years later. Proof that the words spoken to young kids can still resonate long into adulthood.

  4. I’ve learned more and more that leadership can be a learned trait. I look back to my first job as a supervisor and cringe when I think about how I handled certain things. I’m so far beyond that now, but still have light years to go.

  5. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    Wanna learn how to lead? Read the book of John Maxwell who is credible in that field. When I was in college and elected to be a class president, I was afraid of not fulfilling the job they expected me to do. However, my adviser gave a book authored by Maxwell. To make the story short, the book helped me realize my potentials to be a good and servant leader. Thanks for him I hone my leadership skills inside of me.

    • I also enjoy hearing the leadership ideas from Andy Stanley and Michael Hyatt. Both have been influenced by Maxwell and are dynamic and insightful in their own way.

      • Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

        Brian, I’ve read one of the books by Andy Stanley entitled “How Good is Good Enough?”, which highly recommendable. Gonna check out Michael Hyatt’s books. I hope I can meet these wonderful people.

  6. For most of my life I have tried to stay in the background, unnoticed. It has worked. More recently though, I have grown tired of following others who seem to me to be clueless. More and more these days I try to take the lead. Whether others follow or not remains up to them.

  7. I really like this post, Brian! After hearing people say “you’re just born with it”, I would steer clear of things I wasn’t naturally good at. Turns out that I’m not really that naturally good at anything besides organizing and time management. But over the last few years, I’ve learned that I can learn almost anything. And pretty much everything that I actually want to learn, including finances, relationships, and cooking. I am happy to say that through learning, I’ve implemented techniques that really have made huge differences in my life.

    • “…steer clear of things I wasn’t naturally good at.” That’s so true Natalie. And in doing so we miss so many opportunities to stretch ourselves.

  8. Like others have said, one with leadership abilities tend to exude it without having to really say much. It’s also about being perceived to be trustworthy and authentic.

  9. I think it can be learned, but it definitely comes more naturally for some, IMHO. I think a true leader would never admit to being one. They are humbled, they see value in others before themselves, they are gracious and thankful, they walk the talk. No one wants to work hard for an a$$#ole. You may be leader in title, but if you don’t demonstrate these qualities, you’re not a TRUE leader.

    • “…it definitely comes more naturally for some…” I don’t disagree with that. It would seem that some are more naturally bent to assume a leadership role. I saw that in my students all the time. A large part of that I believe has to do with their personality. An outgoing, dominant personality will be more inclined to pursue a leadership position than a shy, passive personality. Both can be leaders and both can learn but for one it just flows easier.

  10. I think when you are a true leader, you don’t have to tell people what to do…they just follow your example and that is influence. I think that’s the everyday leader. So in some ways, I do feel like a leader.

  11. Another great post, Brian. I agree leadership can be learned, but some people will find that they need more practice than others. That’s ok – just keep at it. It’s also a good idea to examine the leadership qualities that come easiest to you and focus on those. Maybe you aren’t bold, but you do a great job building consensus. Run with that!

    I do think all leaders need to be able to make decisions in a timely matter and stick by them. Don’t flop in the breeze!

    • “…examine the leadership qualities that come easiest to you and focus on those.” Great point Kirsten! If you can improve on your strengths first that will make you all the more effective.


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