Are you a ‘born leader’?

Why do you follow the people you follow? Think about the last ten or so people you last interacted with on any kind of work-related matter:

  1. Which of those people, if they came marching in, announced that there was a vital task to be done, and asked for volunteers to follow them, would you feel a sudden urge to get up and follow?
  2. How many of these people would get up and march with you if you made a call for volunteers?

There are some people you know who have some sort of leadership title, such as Marketing Manager, Team Leader or CEO who you wouldn’t naturally be inclined to follow to the photocopier, but whose bidding you carry out because of their title.

Then there are those others without title who just seem to have ‘it’ – probably the ones who were your answer to question 1. You’ve hung on their every word when you’re in a meeting with them. They’re the ones who seem to really listen to others and always have something useful to contribute. Few people have a truly bad word to say about them. They probably get all sorts of people asking their advice. Keep an eye on these people because they’re going places! And if your organisation doesn’t see the value in these people, some other outfit will snap them up because they’ll know that these are the kinds of people who are a joy to manage, an asset to the business and a pleasure to have around.

Two kinds of leadership

So what does this say about leadership? There are (at least) two forms of leadership: one is the named or formal type, which derives its authority from the organisational structure. So you have your CEO, your CFO and all the other titles in your workplace.

The other form of leadership is often un-named, unspoken, informal, and relies more on human relationships, communication and influence. People in formal leadership positions can of course often communicate well and make us want to achieve the organisation’s goals, but there are also people who inspire followers without any external markers or trappings. They have the ‘X factor’. You can have it with a title or without. So what can you learn from this?

Who says you’re a leader?

Well, it’s most important to recognise that leadership is conferred. Some of you may be saying, “Well, of course it’s conferred, I didn’t promote myself!” While others we’ve met recently may equally well be saying, “I didn’t want this. I just started a business and now people seem to expect guidance and leadership from me! I’m a marketing specialist / an engineer / an inventor, not a leader!” But informal leadership is also conferred.

A central phenomenon of the way we are programmed is ‘choosing’ – we choose all the time. We even choose our leaders. Think back to your answer to question 1. There are people whose feedback you value more, there are people to whose professional opinion you give greater weight, and there are people you like to bounce a new idea off – and there are people you wouldn’t approach for advice under any circumstances.

So are you a leader?

What about question 2? If people around you would follow you if you asked, you need to pay attention. These people have conferred some kind of leadership on you, irrespective of your title or lack thereof – and irrespective of your feelings about yourself, or your preferences. And if you started the company, or lead a team, or have all the best and most commercial ideas in your part of the organisation, you’d better accept it – you’re a leader, whether you like it or not.

So the next question for you is not, “Do I want to be a leader?” It’s rather, “What kind of leader do I want to be?” Being a leader – even if you didn’t court the position – carries with it responsibilities. If people are going to follow you, you’d better be sure that you’ll be satisfied with, even proud of, where you take them!

You’ve either got it or you haven’t

The old days of ‘you’ve got it or you haven’t’ are long gone. Research in the area of emotional intelligence suggests that leadership capabilities are both recognisable and learnable. So the next question is, “How do I need to develop myself in order to become the leader I want to be?” It’s vital to create a continual development plan which includes a variety of teaching and learning techniques and a nurturing peer group, as well as holding a long-term, big picture view of where you are going. Three things will get you started:

  1. Firstly, choose to be a leader – especially if other people already seem to have made the choice for you!
  2. Have a genuine interest in being the best leader you can possibly be.
  3. Be willing to work hard and be ruthlessly honest with yourself.

It’s all about change in you. The only way to leadership is to be ever more completely and authentically yourself. Inner strength, honesty and understanding are key. It’s not for the faint-hearted!

Have you got what it takes?

Our Leadership Development programmes are designed to change your leadership behaviour.