In my last blog I covered the necessity for great leaders, especially in today’s digital world in which examples are readily seen and so must be set. I described in general terms some of the qualities that make up a great leader.
This leads to a pertinent question: How do such leaders come about? Are they born, or are they made?
It’s just my own opinion, but I believe, to a greater or lesser extent, great leaders are made. Certainly some are born with personal magnetism, but at some point in their progression there are people who will mentor them, or teach them, or educate them, or offer sage advice. Just about any great leader who has ever lived credits someone they looked up to and followed as having inspired or influenced their achievements.
So if a leader is made, how does that come about?
It Starts With a Decision
It all begins with you as an individual—and just like anything it begins with a decision. Though it may seem obvious, the first decision you must make is to be a great leader. There was a great saying that went through society a number of years ago, on T-shirts, bumper stickers and the like: “Either lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.” It is true that you are either a leader or a follower. A leader is, as we discussed in the previous blog, someone who first of all takes responsibility. A follower, on the other hand, is someone who is usually sort of hiding behind someone else and deflecting responsibility. It is up to you who you would rather be.
Once that decision to be a leader has been firmly made, then comes the work.
Learning to be a Leader
There are plenty of books out there on leadership, some great, some not so great. You should certainly avail yourself of those, especially ones actually written by great leaders. In this way you can utilize leaders that you might otherwise not have access to as role models.
But therein lies the key: role models. The best thing you can do is pick one that you see has most or all of the qualities you would like to have as a leader, and utilize them as your role model. It is best if it is someone you know and can actually talk to. It is even better if it is someone you can go to work for, or with.
If you’re going to work directly with someone, make sure that they’re of an encouraging nature. You want someone who will point out your strengths and make you stronger, not someone who will constantly harp about your weaknesses and make you feel worse.
Beyond finding role models, also network with people in similar positions, and learn from them. With today’s social media, you’ve never had a greater opportunity to do that.
Then, of course, comes education. You need to learn everything possible about your field of endeavor. You need to be a participant in that field—for example if you’re going to lead a sales organization, be sure you know how to sell and have successfully done that. If you’re going to be in politics, learn how the great political leaders have brought about change. Learn also about the realities of society and how to successfully work, engage and interact with the people who will become your constituents.
As you become a leader, never be afraid to step out there and become active. That’s the only way you’ll ever really learn. Of course you’ll make mistakes—we all do. But the great leaders learn from their mistakes, and make them all part of their education.
Overall, learning to be a great leader is a lot like constructing a skyscraper. The higher you build, the deeper you have to make the foundation. The foundation consists of your own personal integrity (as discussed in the previous blog), the decision to be a leader, following the right role models, educating yourself, and the courage to take risks. The stronger that foundation, the higher you’ll be able to make your building.
Aim for the stars!