When you meet a true leader, you know! One of those people whose presence and attitude alone make you want to listen and follow, a rare situation where being a lemming would be (surprisingly) safe and comforting. These people might have a special talent but equally important they have chosen to lead, be leaders, and act the part.
Stuck in lemming-land
For some reason most people seems to think you need a permit to practice leadership – you don’t. When I went to the officer’s academy, where everyone was training to be a leader, once in a while someone would lose it and display a total lack of responsibility (or some other relevant leadership trait). When confronted, most often the cadet would reply: I would never do that, if I was in charge. I found the implication, that leadership is a skill set used once you have gained the position and responsibility but not before, utterly absurd. When an ever pressured middle manager chooses to whine with the pack of employees instead of standing in front and leading them – that is a choice, an acceptance of the role as employer which suppresses the drive (and perhaps skill and ambition) to lead. (Would you promote that middle manager… just a thought?)
These people believe they are stuck as lemmings and therefore forced to act like one, until the moment they are promoted, when they will instantly turn into the leader the hope to be. It just doesn’t work for a whole bunch of reasons. If you a lucky enough to be promoted without ever displaying even the smallest amount of leadership skill, what will you do? You will have no experience, no skill, and therefore forced to rely on luck and instincts in your quest to become the leader you thought you would be.
If you want to lead – lead
Leadership is not reserved for the appointed leaders. Management is perhaps semi-patented but not leadership. I know the clear distinction between leadership and management can be discussed, but in this context leadership is the personal behaviour, providing motivation etc, where management is the division of assignments, setting of deadlines and so forth. There are plenty of leadership situations out there. Take charge when someone has to, help your colleagues out when they are stuck (and need your help), see the bigger picture, involve more angles than just your own, and in general take a wider responsibility. You will try yourself out as leader, others might see that you have it, and you will practice and improve.
Even in very competitive environments people always assume different roles, and leadership is always in demand. Everybody wants to be part of a winning team and that takes leadership. Even the most ambitious will let someone else lead in order to win. When someone takes responsibility and says “follow me, I know where we need to go” with enough conviction, people feel safe and follow.
Take the high road
One of your best possibilities for displaying a knack for leadership and start being perceived as a leader is to take the high road. Accept a responsibility for the bigger picture and not just your own assignments. Help others understand why the CEO’s “crazy decisions” make sense, accept that no one tries actively to destroy your work and if it feels like it start a dialog and solve it. Leaders help the process and make sure we move on.
The world is full of lemmings
No matter which management level you are on today (from Team leader to VP), challenges are solved when someone stands out from the crowd, takes charge, and gets the results (and the promotion). Deep down most of us are lemmings – lemmings need a leader – is that you?