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You Are a Leader, Whether You Like It or Not

leadership.jpgIn the past 3 years I've been reading books about leadership, discussing leadership with friends and pondering what leadership looks like in my life. Though my reading, discussing and pondering, a theme has emerged:

You are a leader, whether you like it or not.

You may not want to be a leader, but it's too late. Someone, somewhere already considers you a leader in spite of the ideas you may have constructed about yourself.

When I came to understand the idea that leadership emerges from my personality — that it forms itself based on who I am — that old self concept of just being a follower had to change.

You see, I was never one to think of myself as a leader. As a child I was a follower. In my mind, I defined myself as a follower, not as a leader. I considered others to be leaders, but not me — I was the quiet, reliable, encouraging team player who supported leaders behind the scenes.

In reality my "follower" qualities were my "leadership" qualities. I started to see other qualities I'd dismissed as my curious or encouraging nature: the desire to see others get better, excitement about learning and teaching, the willingness to try new things and share my experiences. Listening, thinking, acting, connecting.

Whoah. Why didn't I see these attributes? Why did I miss this leadership qualities in my own life?

Simple. It's because I'd created a lens or a filter through which I saw my own life and actions. Because I didn't consider myself a leader, the things I did with my life weren't leadership, they were something else. Anything else.

I was and am a leader — I just hadn't realized it.

Now that I've accepted that I'm a leader, I'm thinking like a leader. Not a self-help book or the month leader who simply adopts the latest theory about what a leader should be — rather I'm letting the leader already in me emerge.

Ideas, experiences and practical applications from my life define who I am as a leader. I'm constantly reviewing who I am, striving to improve myself and striving to see others improve through my leadership.

You are a leader, whether you like it or not.

The deeper question is this — what will you do about it?

Reader Comments (11)

Just discovered your site on 9rules, and enjoy it ... great post on leadership, and great outlook on how we naturally influence those around us. We're not all natural leaders, but we are all leaders, none-the-less!

Could you share some of the leadership books you've recently enjoyed? Two recent "under the radar" reads of mine are Contrarian's Guide to Leadership by Steven Sample and Practicing Greatness by Reggie McNeal.

October 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAsher Lewis
Mike, I never thought of myself as a leader or a follower. I like to think of myself as an independent - someone who doesn't follow others, but also doesn't try to lead others. I guess we are all leaders and followers in some ways, and I think that's ok. I see this as being similar to the "you are an expert at your own experience" idea...
October 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPete Prodoehl
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. �John Quincy Adams

That's typically how I'd define who is and who isn't a leader, however if you widen the scope slightly, then everyone is a leader in some way. Everyone will be a role model to someone else, without necessarily realising it.
October 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGrant Hoskin
Asher, thanks for stopping by and noting how you arrived. I always find how people found the blog fascinating. I really like your blog � nice writing there!

I'm pleased that my post sparked your interest. I think you make a good distinction between leaders and natural leaders. I don't know that I'm super charismatic, but I do have passion for what I believe in. I'm trying each day to improve on the leadership qualities I have, and work on new qualities or areas where I need improvement..

As for books, well, not all of these are "leadership books" but have impacted me:

� Good to Great by Jim Collins��Farther Than Any Man (about Captain Cook) by Martin Dugard��Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi� The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman��The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein��Free Agent Nation and A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink��7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey��Getting Things Done by David Allen

I'm sure there are many more which have had more subtle impact, but these are the ones on the top of my mind at the moment. :-)

Pete What you're saying is what I was aiming for � we are leaders and followers in diferent areas of our lives... for me it was important to realize I was a leader as well as a follower and then to embrace it. Until I embraced the idea I could work on and improve the leadership abilities I already had. That seems right on with the "expert in your own experience" idea you mention.

Grant, excellent quote from John Quincy Adams. This is generally what I had in mind when thinking about the post... though I hadn't known about this Adams quote.

Like I mentioned to Pete above, this was a good revelation for me, since I'd already identified myself as a follower, but hadn't realized by my actions I was also a leader.

I figured there must be others out there in a similar position, so this post was intended to help those people see themselves as leaders, and (hopefully) embrace that leadership.
October 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Mike, I've really enjoyed your weblog over the last few months but this latest 'leadership' post is such a bunch of horseshit. It's your typical corporate brainwashing message and I for one am so sick of it I can't even tell you. I don't even have the energy or inclination to call you out on it fully. I spend my days surrounded by people that believe that they are leaders, or managers, or directors and every single one of those egos was massaged by theories like yours. Leadership is important, but we need to know when to recognize it in others rather than to assume we all have it. To assume that you are a leader of others is a rather arrogant standpoint, and one that in some cases can be rather dangerous.
October 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJim
Jim, what I found interesting about your comment is that when I worked in a corporate environment, I never felt like a leader, and I don't think I was ever encouraged to think like one. Once I became an independent, I felt like a leader and embraced it. I tend to think of it not as leading others, but leading myself and controlling my own destiny.
October 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPete Prodoehl
Jim, thanks for stopping by and reading, I appreciate that my blog has been interesting, and that you've taken time to leave a comment.

I think you're misreading what I mean by leadership. I'm not talking about everyone being a "natural leader" or a CEO type, like Jack Welch. I think the the type of leadership you're talking about is "exceutive leadership" with this definition:

The person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country

I'm talking about leadership in much more general terms � the type of everyday leadership we all fall under from time to time:

A person followed by others

I do sincerely believe we are all leaders in this frame of reference. I'm a husband and father and therefore a leader.

Now, I never said being a leader in this general sense makes someone a good leader. Nor have I implied that it makes one a good manager.

This was in fact the point of my post � that we are all leaders somewhere and to someone. That being the case, will we accept the position and seek to improve ourselves? Will we strive to become good leaders and managers?

Part of that is recognizing great leaders and learning from them to improve our own lives. I don't imagine myself becoming the CEO of a huge company � but I can certainly improve my leadership where I am, doing what I do.

P.S. Jim, don't remain anonymous! I welcome your comments, and I encourage you to leave your full name, your blog and your email address so I can contact you directly. :-)
October 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
I fully support the idea of being an example or role model or proponent of the value system you subscribe to, but to call yourself a 'leader' implies that you expect people to follow your lead and subscribe to the same standards that you do. These days, I just don't see people signing up for that because no-one has any repect for an assumed authority, especially young people.

Don't get me wrong Mike, as a father and a husband myself I really want to set an example, and before I take the big 'dirt nap' I really would like to belive I made a difference in the lives of people close to me. But I still believe that the word 'leader' is a title to be awarded rather than assumed.

October 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJim
I'm a husband and father and therefore a leader.

Hehehe. That's what we women WANT you to think!


Sorry, feeling a bit silly tonight.
October 17, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfiat lux
Hi Mike, helpful thoughts. Enjoying dropping in now and again. I think Maxwell's phrase is "Leadership is influence." And by that definition, we are all leaders to some extent. I'm not sure if you meant this or not, but I think the issue is that we miss out on real opportunities if we don't take our influence seriously.

As a Dad, it really is important to realize I am a leader to my kids, or I might not take the job seriously. It is also important to realize I am not the only leader/influencer in their life, so that I (again) take seriously the influence that I do, in fact, have. I once read that most people simply respond to the environment they are in. One of my goals is to "be" the environment that other people respond to - to set the tone, positive, hopeful, encouraging. I fail often, but the goal pulls me forward.

I think anyone who actually Cares about something will begin to have influence - even if it just springs out of their joy or anger. And so they become in some ways at least, a leader to others. Thanks for the enouragement to take my influence seriously.

October 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous
Thanks Jim for the comments.

Funny one Fiat Lux! :-)

Gordon, I appreciate the insight � I know what you mean about influence on children as we have a 4 year old and I am sensing the same things as you write about. Glad I could encourage you.
October 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde

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