As we’ve traveled around the country doing leadership training, we read lots of books on leadership, and seriously contemplate how leadership affects our lives, one question has turned up with glaring consistency: Can anyone be a leader?
Before we get too deep into tools and practices, concepts and approaches, for leadership, we have to determine exactly who the audience is. Can everyone be a leader? Or is it a calling for a select few?
Why the Question Matters
I have to admit that there have been times where I’ve wondered if this question really even matters. It is more a conclusion of opinion than verifiable fact. But the more I have the discussion, the more I’m convinced it matters.
Our world is crying out for good leadership. Its lack is an epidemic. If everyone is capable of leadership, the solution to this particular problem is something we are all responsible for. If not, there is an elite group who need to rise to the occasion.
The bigger concern is, if the latter is true, where does that leave the rest of us? What should we do? Maybe that’s a different question altogether. Maybe not.
It Boils Down to Definitions
The answer to this question boils down to how we define a leader. Anyone who takes the position that only certain people are capable of leadership are likely thinking of leadership as a position. An official seal. For those, like me, who think we are all capable of leading, the word is defined by the parameters of influence and how we steward it.
I like to think everyone is a leader, whether they like it or not, accept it or not. That’s taking it a step further. Not only are we all capable of it, we are all doing it. But I base that opinion on the understanding that leadership is: influencing others to achieve a vision.
I would argue we are all using our influence to move others toward a vision. Again, this might be happening subconsciously, but it happens nonetheless. I want people to agree with me. That’s a vision. I want the world to work the way I want or be told what to do. Whatever it is, There-Here-Path is the unavoidable framework of life and I can’t help but have a There. I want something and I use my words, emotions, promises, skills, avoidance, etc. to try to see that vision to fruition. Even if my vision is to just be left alone I influence the world around me to meet that vision.On the other hand, I think if we are to say there are people not capable of leadership, we have to assume a definition that encompasses awareness, thinly defined visions, and acknowledged authority. This is the world’s traditional view of leadership. You have to be called a leader to be one. You have to know where you’re going to lead others there. And so forth. I could be wrong, but I think this is a limited and controlled view of what it means to lead.
But it all depends on our definitions. If leadership is influence, we are all people of influence. We do it all the time, everyday. If leadership is more positional and official, then it stands to reason not everyone can be a CEO or a manager.
How to Proceed
The key takeaway from our discussions on leadership is that we are all responsible for what we are responsible for. Said another way, we can only steward the influence we are capable of. No more and no less.
I think we like the idea that leadership is a limited commodity because it strokes the egos of those who believe they are capable and reinforces the victim mentality of those who believe they aren’t. It is much harder to say we are all leaders, pursue awareness around the true nature of our vision, and be intentional about what we are doing to influence others to make that vision a reality.
One of the reasons I’ve landed on the side I have is because I have found positional leadership pretty ineffective. In my experience, it is the people who are good that influence and lead me most effectively.
We may never be CEOs or Generals. But we all have a part to play. We all have a responsibility to steward. When others see us steward our character well, it inspires and influences them to do the same. This is the very nature of leadership, whether it be positional or something deeper.