Who said that?
We have all probably heard people saying that they don’t believe they are a leader. It may be true that they don’t have the title, but does that mean they are not in a position to lead? In the words of Stephen Covey, ‘leadership is a choice, not a position’.
So what does leadership mean? If we look in the dictionary, it defines a leader as the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country and leadership as the act of doing this. This fits with our traditional thinking and beliefs around leaders. For example, we will often hear people describe youngsters as ‘natural leaders’ because they are ordering their friends around or organising everything.
What if we were to look at leadership differently? Instead of thinking of it as a ‘role’, maybe we can look at it as a ‘way of living’. If we think about our lives every day, most of us find ourselves in all kinds of situations where we have the opportunity to influence others in their thoughts or their actions. Whether that is as a parent influencing our children, or as a friend, a colleague, a teacher or as a boss, we experience plenty of interactions where we are in a position to influence another person. Surely, these are all opportunities for us to step up as leaders.
So how do we influence effectively? Most of us probably think first about giving other the benefit of our experience, our knowledge and our ideas, so that they can make the ‘right’ decision. However, we have all no doubt experienced times when, having taken the time to offer up all our very best advice, it has been either ignored, or at best, only acted upon in part. In reality, often our most influential tools are our ability to ask searching questions and the skill of listen with our full attention.
Frequently we see examples of how the most effective leaders are able to inspire others to be totally committed to achieving something, not because they are being told they need to do it but because they want to. Usually this commitment comes because their thinking has been provoked with appropriate questions and then their ideas have been encouraged and heard, so they feel a real sense of ownership in their actions and an investment in the outcome.
If we are still struggling to think of the term leader applying to those of us who are not in a prominent role, we could all be inspired by some of the stories from the Queen’s Young Leader programme. These awards celebrate young people who are working on issues from equality to education and mental health. Between them they have inspired hundreds, possibly thousands of people across the world. One example, Leanne Armitage is 22 and was chosen for her work inspiring young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and ethnic minorities to enter the medical profession.
We are all leaders, if we choose to be, because whenever we are in a position to influence another person we have the opportunity to take a leadership approach and inspire them to find their own best way forward.