Leadership is more than stepping into a position that allows you to make decisions for the best interest of others. Leadership involves leading, being able to make decisions, listening, encouraging others and helping others rise up so they too can become leaders.
True leadership also involves a heart to serve. Having a heart to serve either in a personal aspect or in a business arena allows you to give to others while you guide along the way. You give your time, you give your experience. You give your patience and you share your thoughts and insights when it’s beneficial to help another person learn, grow and evolve.
There’s a statistic that shows in the worldly sense of leadership, only 2% of people are real leaders. Statistics say the rest are followers. I believe that there are many more than 2%- however; these people have never seen themselves through the filter of understanding leadership- so they do not recognize it in themselves. They don’t recognize that they already are a leader. I have found that ultimately, the best leaders are those who were initially the best followers.
Leadership is built into every family unit. It’s a natural part of who we are as human beings. When we become parents, there is no official guide book that comes along with our children. We lead by trial and error. We learn from others what has worked and what has not. Then we make our own choices to guide our children to help them learn how to make choices and become independent. The cycle then continues.
Even when a traditional family unit is not present, people will bond with others and an unconventional ‘family’ will develop. From the beginning of time, there has always been a person who is ‘in charge’ of a family. One person who takes the bulk of responsibility for making choices, educating, sharing, teaching, showing others in that family what to do, where to go and how to do it. Leadership is natural. It’s genetically coded into all of us.
Historically, those who are in charge of the family unit then come together and a larger unit of people will bond. These turned into tribes, villages, towns, cities, states and countries. The leaders of the families stepped forward once again- to lead and guide a larger group of people.
If this cycle is so natural and has been around since the beginning of time, then why do so many people today shun, hide or resist the opportunity of leadership? I believe it starts with the perspective of what leadership is. I have met many people who, in their own right, are already great leaders- but they’ve never thought of themselves as one. They’ve never recognized that the actions they already take, the choices they already make and the way they interact with people around them- is that of great leadership.
I have had the unique opportunity to work with different organizations in a leadership capacity. In these organizations I’ve stood side by side with people who have had tremendous heart and the inherent ability to step up into a recognized position of leadership. In some cases, everyone thrives, in others, only a select few do- and the difference always comes down to recognizing (or not) ones own ability to lead.
In one organization, the leader whom I was accountable to, spoke about rising leaders from amongst the members of the group and allow them to take on leadership roles. However, he was not willing to honestly look at - or give a chance to - the other members who were fully capable and willing to serve and lead. He talked about growth through leadership and encouraged everyone to step forth. When there were appropriate times to have others take on leadership roles however, he was unwilling to give them the opportunity. They had the heart and skill sets to lead but they were not confident enough in their abilities to speak up and step up on their own.
Those people who wanted to serve didn’t recognize the skill sets they had. Their lack of understanding what it takes to lead prevented them from speaking up. Instead they always were just disappointed, unfulfilled followers- privately wanting to be recognized as a leader. This hurt the organization and those individuals.
In another organization which I’ve been involved with since 1997, called BNI, I have the opportunity to work as a director with business professionals on a weekly basis. One incredible aspect of this organization is that by its very nature it is designed to help develop leaders in the community. Every six months there is an opportunity for professionals to step up into a position of leadership to run a weekly networking meeting. There are three main positions that are needed to oversee the meetings along with support positions that handle a variety of activities.
Every six months, when this changeover occurs, I, as a director of these chapters, have a responsibility to help choose who the next leaders will be. I have a position of leadership to help guide, teach, support and mentor the individuals so they themselves, will guide the other professionals in the chapter to be successful as individual members.
It’s an interesting time when the bi-annual change occurs. There are those who willingly jump at the chance to serve and lead. Then there are those who sometimes need to be encouraged to step up. During the six months between this leadership team change over, as their director, I get to observe these members. I see them already acting as a leader- but often, those that need the most encouragement, have not yet seen themselves as one. It’s amazing to see the transformation in a person when they first didn’t recognize in themselves that they already had the ability to lead, yet they take a chance and step forward. With encouragement, support and training, the personal development that follows is literally life changing. Those people see and feel it- as do those around them.
Not being able to recognize leadership attributes already in operation can unnecessarily prevent people from stepping up from being a proactive, acknowledged leader. As a leader, one of the biggest and most rewarding aspects of leadership, is to help others see it in themselves. When this new perspective happens, magic occurs. The leader and the leader in queue both grow. True leadership is an ongoing cycle of receive, learn, retain and release. We learn as a leader and then we turn around and teach those we are responsible for. They in turn, learn, and then teach those around them.
There are some people who are comfortable with being a leader from an early age. It’s just simply who they are. Others are thrown into leadership. They’ve never really seen themselves acting as a leader and then circumstances arise that put them into the moment where they have to step up. Every person has a choice. When opportunity to lead presents itself- you always have a choice. You can choose to wear the mantle of leadership, or you can choose not to. Chances are if you’ve been thrown into a circumstance where you are faced with a choice to lead- you already have the foundation of a leader.
The ideal situation for many people is to be given the chance to lead by being asked. When that happens, give yourself acknowledgement. People ask you because they see the leader in you! Your experience up to that point as an active leader may be big – or it may be your first time. Accepting the role can open up learning and growth opportunities for you that will frame your life for years to come.
I remember when I was young; leadership roles were put upon me at an early age. Some of it was natural. I am the oldest of three children and with that is an element of leadership. The younger children in a family typically and instinctually look up to the older sibling to ‘show them the ropes’. I was fortunate when I was growing up; there were adults around me who gave me chances to lead. I had not initially seen my own potential, but they did. I recall coaching kids younger than me in a sport I was good at. I remember working with and teaching girls younger than me in the Girl Scouts.
As I grew older and got into junior high and high school, teachers would give me leadership roles. I was very involved in music in school. I had great teachers that led me to excel in music- and then those same teachers turned around and put me into positions to lead my peers with my music skills.
There were times when I resented always being in charge. I didn’t always understand why I ‘had to be the one in charge’. Many times it seemed like I was the only one who was asked to lead. This may or may not have been the case- but in my perspective, it was reality. People around me always said ‘if there was something to be done, Debbra could do it, put her in charge’. What I didn’t understand is that I had shown the propensity for leadership from early on and others were seeing it in me before I saw it in myself.
I did recognize however, that at those times, whether the leadership role was handed to me or if I volunteered for it- I always grew. I was able to enjoy moments of great giving. The real reward of my personal growth through leadership was the great satisfaction of seeing that what I did, shared, and taught others around me- helped those people to grow also. Today, when I am asked to lead, I always consider it. Remember, when someone asks you to step up, it’s usually because other people have seen the leader within you.
You have value. You have insight. Your experiences are unique- and you can be exactly what those around you need to draw from in order to achieve a mutual goal. Step up the next time there’s an opportunity for you to share your leadership. People around you will benefit – and most importantly, you will benefit from within.
By Debbra Sweet
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