What does it mean to be a leader?
The Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Late Middle Ages, the Industrial Age, the Machine Age, the Atomic Age, the Space Age and finally, the Information Age which is currently playing out have all been bridged from age to age by one vital element; the leader. Empires have risen, kingdoms have been built and dirt poor regions have been transformed into amazing civilizations not because more resources were available in these regions or to these individuals but because they had the agent of transformation who was able to maximize and multiply the available resources. On the other hand, many empires have also fallen and kingdoms that had so much potential have either crashed or become redundant because those who were the leaders did not understand and could not rightly define leadership. It goes without saying that a leader is a vital organ of society. He is to society what the heart is to the body, if he does not understand what his function is, if he cannot properly define his role, the whole of society is doomed.
Society’s structure will in fact be disrupted without the magnetic presence of the leader who works tirelessly to ensure that all persons are brought together regardless of race, gender, educational status and political views to achieve a common goal. Several men and women have been able to achieve this feat and to successfully distinguish themselves as leaders through the course of history. So many are familiar with the glamour associated with these individuals while most times, missing the strength of character, the passion and the challenges that all these individuals had that made them such exemplary leaders. They understood that change could occur against all odds, they knew that things could be improved upon and they knew that the world could be a better place.
People were not afraid to follow them because they were men and women of personal integrity; they walked their talk. They were not just frothing, they meant what they said and they were not afraid or ashamed to get their hands dirty as long as the job got done. They understood, as we all must, that being a leader means living a life that can inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and be more. A leader’s life and actions should push even the most passive of men into the action zone and make them realize that they too can rise up and fight for their dreams and the common goal.
Leadership is usually glamorous and attractive, it places the spotlight on an individual and most times, amplifies strengths and magnifies achievements. It’s usually so easy to look at the leader from afar and think ‘I could do that too. In fact, I’d be perfect for it’, but what does it really mean to be a leader? What does it mean to live for a cause you believe in, to live by a vision you see and to pursue a dream that is not yet tangible and convince others to join forces with you? What does it mean to represent a group of people, to stand in for them and stand up for them, to shield them and teach them and raise them to be leaders in their own right? What does it mean to put aside bias, personal feelings, comfort and weakness to become a voice, a motivation and an agent of change and transformation? Only when you and I are able to get the right perspective on these questions would we begin to get a glimpse of what it means to be a leader.
First and foremost, being a leader is not being a tyrant, an autocrat or a dictator. A true leader’s strength is in teaching his followers, valuing their opinions and reasoning with them. He understands that people may respond to fear but they’ll never thrive, bloom or live up to their full potential in an atmosphere of fear, hence, he guides them and pushes them without coddling them or making them afraid and he constantly reminds them of the grand vision that he sees because he wants them to see it too. Leadership is seeing ahead; balancing realism with optimism while maximizing the present resources to achieve the future goal. A leader thrives on vision because he knows that the present is a result of one man’s vision and that just managing the present and accepting the status quo will make for a redundant society, going into extinction. He knows that vision is the essence of existence, once man stops dreaming and his mind becomes so jaded that he loses the ability to see the future, the whole essence of existence and the chain of growth and civilization is disrupted. This understanding spurs the leader on to not accept less than the best from everyone including himself. Mediocrity is his personal enemy and he has to battle the enemy called average because he knows that an average leader produces roughshod results and makes no real or lasting impact.
Being a leader also means always being one step ahead and going the extra mile in all things, not because there’s a morbid desire to lord knowledge over others or a need to develop a superiority complex to fill certain gaps of insecurity but because the leader understands that the right information is necessary to move forward and that he also must put in the work. A leader also understands that he has to lead himself first before he can successfully lead others. Hence, he knows that the comfort zone is a place he cannot afford to stay in and that he consistently has to push himself and break out of all mental limitations so that his followers can move forward and the vision can become a reality.
Understanding that leadership is a trust that must earned is another thing that makes for a leader. A true leader knows that if people don’t trust him, they won’t follow him. Due to this, he does all he can to earn the trust of his followers by living a life that is consistent with what he professes to believe. A leader is also a man of hard choices. Fear and passivity has no place in leadership because moving forward means breaking old patterns and stepping out of the box and these cannot be done without making the hard choices. Most people remain followers because they want to hide behind someone who can take the fall if things don’t go well. A leader, however, is unafraid to be the ‘fall guy’ because he understands that taking risks is all a part of realizing the vision.
Being a Leader
A leader is a point man, a shield, a mentor, someone who brings perspective to every situation and prevents things from spiraling out of control when they don’t go according to plan. Being a leader is a life long job and leaders don’t always get the appreciation that they deserve but they stick with the vision without giving any thought to quitting even when they are underappreciated and underpaid. A leader is not myopic; he knows his name does not have to be on the door before he does his part to make things better and he does just that. There’s usually a general consensus that leaders are born and that there are some special set of people who are ‘called’ to be leaders but the reality is that everyone can be a leader. Knowing what it takes to be a leader and breaking out of the confines of mediocrity and the very comfortable comfort place to start leading oneself is one of the key principles of being a leader.
What does leadership mean?
Being a leader also means admitting when you’re wrong and being teachable. It means being humble enough to know that you can’t know everything, it means understanding your area of strengths and focusing on them while delegating tasks to others in their own areas of strength. A leader knows the value of a team and he’s not glory crazy. He’s willing to let others get credit for their work and improve themselves. He also knows the value of appreciating the current successes but not allowing them to hold him back. He knows that the enemy of the best is the better and he uses the better as a pivot to reach for the best; he’s always reaching for the next goal because he knows that there is still so much more that is possible. As much he does not allow his success to get to his head, he also does not allow failure to get to his mind because he knows that failure as an event is vastly different from failure as a person. He also understands that many times, failure teaches the most valuable lessons. Like Abraham Lincoln, he does not allow failure to hold him back or pull him down or deter him from seeing what he should see and pursuing what he should pursue. He may lick his wounds for a day or two but in the end, he gets back up and gets in the ring because throwing in the towel is not an option for him. Being a leader means having the attitude of a winner and influencing those being led to have that same attitude.
Everything, absolutely everything rises and falls on leadership. The unity of a nation, technological advancement, a rise through the corporate ladder, financial and economic growth, educational advancement and so on will only be made possible if the leadership gap is bridged. So, next time you wonder what it takes to be a leader, think tenacity, think strength, think ability, think integrity, think compassion, think stamina, think grit, think determination, think vision, think passion, think purpose. Also, when next you’re tempted to be a leader for personal and selfish gain, remember that the leaders who wrote their names on the sands of time and who are still positively lauded today like Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Theodore Roosevelt and so many more did not get their acclaim by living for themselves, rather, they understood what it takes to be a leader and they lived their lives guided by these principles. They were unafraid to charge into battle, unafraid to take charge of potential disasters and on days when they were afraid, they still showed up because they understood that a leader sometimes, does what needs to be done whilst he is afraid.
Being a leader is, sometimes, being backed into a corner where you have no choice but to choose the hard things, but isn’t that what we need at the end of the day? Challenging ourselves to be better so that future generations can have a better America? It is true that leadership is hard work, it comes with its own ups and downs but it’s also the way to truly and fully maximise potential. So, if you want to be a leader, you start by leading yourself and then, you lead others whilst still holding on to your goal and clinging tenaciously to your vision. A leader can dream and because he can, others who follow hum are enabled to dream too. Many people wish they could go back to being children again just for a chance to dream. I say, we don’t have to return to childhood to believe and dream big, we only have to step into the shoes of leadership and keep growing, taking our dreams with us for a better future, a better life and a better society, and someday even though we’re old and grey, we’ll still have clear vision, sharp and compelling and we’ll still be raising leaders because we have learnt what it means to be true leaders.
what does being a leader mean?
It is true, as William Shakespeare asserted that “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. We all must, however, remember that the crown has to be worn and only those courageous enough to take up the crown with its challenges and glories will make their mark in history and leave society better than they met it.
When you hear the names of some famous figures in history such as Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, there is one attribute common to all which should instantly pop into your mind and that is none other than the fact that they were all “Great leaders”. We are quite familiar with some of the most influential people in the yester years who have their names engraved in history as a great leader because of their valor and courage, inspiration and commitment displayed towards achieving their goal successfully.
In more recent times, there are many great leaders living amongst us and you may be surprised to hear this, some of them maybe people who happen to be a part of our daily lives! After all there is certainly some truth behind the age old saying that goes as, “Great leaders are not made, they are born”
As portrayed in movies and history books, being a leader is not all about winning battles and conquering nations; a great leader does more than just that. Most people tend to associate great leaders with a person with a vision and a plan but that is not all. To be a great leader one must be courageous and motivated to take strategic decisions in a volatile environment, inspire others to put in their best effort and be the guiding light to his team, maintain resilience and strength in the face of adversity and the need to remain focused on the goal, whatever that may be. There is no narrowly defined description or magical formula on the qualities and attributes on what it takes to distinguish an ordinary man from a great leader but rather, being a great leader goes along the lines of being a self-motivated, inspiring person who is able to take on the responsibility of directing and managing a team as well as oneself towards realizing their ultimate vision.
Being a great leader might sound like a quite an uphill task with the need to come up with a sure-fire plan, hunt for the resources and the people, leading and directing the team to realize their full potential, making crucial decisions every step of the way, being proactive all while having your eyes on the ultimate goal. Fear not, we have got you covered with all what it takes to be a leader and a great one at it.
- Be a “Man with a Vision”
Just as the Classic English Band, Seven’s said it rightfully in their song “You wanna change the world, you need a man with a vision” all those aspiring to great leaders need to have a vision of what their ultimate aim is and how they are going to achieve it. All of us dream and we do dream big, but having a vision is different from a dream because it is not just the ability to picture your destination but rather it goes a step further which requires you to have a sure-fire plan of the journey which would take you to your destination.
Perhaps, the greatest quality which distinguishes a leader from an ordinary person is the ability to see the big picture of where they are eventually headed for, what they are capable of and what it takes to get there. Therefore, in order to succeed as a leader, you need to have a vision and work hard for it by creating achievable milestones for each step of the journey you take in drawing closer to realizing your vision. Always remember “Well begun is half done.”
- Inspire and be Inspired
Have you ever thought why great leaders were able to reach their final destination in spite of having to fight off many obstacles and setbacks along their way which alone would have been reason enough for some of us to give up, and that is indeed where the fine line is drawn between a leader and an ordinary person!
Being a leader is no mean feat because more often than not it is not a one-man show but rather the collective efforts of a team which is motivated, inspired and committed towards achieving the ultimate goal that makes your vision a success. As a leader, you need to be a constant source of inspiration to your team by motivating them to achieve their full potential and put in their best efforts towards realizing the end goal.
There may be tough times where things take a bad turn and you may not achieve as much as you had intended to when you first set out, and these are the times when you need to get yourself together and be there for your team the most by applauding their efforts and convincing that tomorrow will turn out to be a better day. Always be the guiding light to your team because “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going” and after all there is no success without hardships.
- Think before you do
Strategic and Critical thinking skills play a significant role into shaping a leader. Just as the famous American Author Napoleon Hill said “You have a brain and mind of your own. Use it and reach your own decisions.”
Being a leader is not just about going to war and conquering the enemy. You need to put a lot of thought into what are the strategies you need to deploy in order to achieve your end goal. In order to do that, a leader needs to have strong critical thinking skills to evaluate the current situation including the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats at present and come up with solutions and a clear strategy on how to combat these weaknesses and threats and optimize on the strengths and opportunities to reach the ultimate destination successfully.
As a leader one needs to be mindful of his team and others impacted by the decisions he takes because the slightest move in the wrong direction is all it takes to destroy a great leader.
- Communication is Key
One thing that all great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela and many other had in common was the skills of keeping the audience captivated with excellent communication Skills. However, good communication does not require you to be an outgoing person or an extrovert-you can still be an introverted person but an excellent leader at it.
Communication skills are key to an aspiring leader because you need to be able to express yourself and your visions and goals to your team and the public in a way that it appeals to them in order to gain their support. Also, as a leader you would be the figure-head on behalf of your team and will be expected to give a statement or speeches at public events and the like so it’s important for you to brush-up on your communication skills to express your ideas in a manner that the people understand and are able to relate to.
Another thing to keep in mind is not to sound over-confident and boastful when communicating with your peers or anyone to begin with because people usually will not warm up to such people and may disregard you. You should be empathic with an ear for listening to what the other person has to say and respond appropriately in order to build a good relationship with others because a great leader is not all about issuing orders, it involves lending an ear to what your team has to say and making sure to strategize and take decisions incorporating their ideas and concerns into account.
- Know thyself
As Socrates once said a great leader needs to “Know thyself” which translates to being able to understand where one stands and recognize your own strengths and flaws. Being aware of oneself would enable a leader to clearly understand what he is currently good at and needs to be improved on. Having a good knowledge of oneself would allow a leader to be authentic and true to one’s self rather than trying to fit into the mold set by someone else.
Being a leader is no mean feat and if you fail to self-assess yourself from time to time, your opponent might capitalize on your weaknesses and catch you unawares. Hence, the need to understand and develop oneself whilst staying true and authentic to oneself. Keep in mind “Originality is the best form of rebellion”.
As a leader, your peers and team will lookup to you, so you need to set an example in the way you lead them by action, deed and thought alike and also being consistent to your practices and ideals matters a lot too. If you have got any trait that needs to be developed, work on it but the biggest mistake a leader could do is to mold themselves into a person that they are not whom they perceive would make an excellent leader. This is indeed the root cause of the downfall of so many great leaders, both in the past and present. Remember, why be a second-rate version of someone else when you can be a first-rate version of yourself!
- Embrace creativity and acceptance
A creative mind and the acceptance to explore and check out new possibilities is what distinguishes a leader from the rest because that requires you to step out of your comfort zone which most people are not so fond of.
Great leaders are those who are willing and open to change and in order to do so you need to embrace new ideas and possibilities and understand that there is no hard and fast rule on the “right” way to do things or stick by the old rulebook. You need to be open-minded and alert to think outside the box and come up with fresh ideas because the only thing constant in this fast evolving world is change and those who are willing to embrace change with open arms are indeed the ones who would succeed!
As a good leader you need be creative and receptive towards new possibilities that may come by your way even if it may involve you diverting from the original plan. Besides, if those possibilities allow you to reach your ultimate destination quickly or easily shouldn’t it be an option worth considering?
- Patience is a Virtue
As a leader, you may be highly ambitious and focused person that there can be instances things didn’t turn out as well as expected or if one of your team members made a slip. It is quite natural for anyone to express a sense of frustration and anger in such a situation. However, in order to be a great leader, one needs to be able to remain calm even in the face of adversity or defeat because patience is a virtue and one of the key traits of a great leader.
You also need to understand that there can be days where your team may not do as well or you may have to fight off unforeseen obstacles in your path and while those may be difficult times, losing your wits is not the way to go about it. Instead, reflect on what went wrong and be receptive enough to accommodate any suggestions suggested by your team and focus on how to give it your best shot the next time. Patience and Perseverance is key to a strong leadership.
By the end of this article, I am quite certain that you would have a better idea of what it takes to be a great leader and one that sets you apart from the rest. All these traits and qualities required to make a great leader are nothing magical or out of the ordinary an you may indeed possess a few or even most of them. So, what exactly is preventing you from being an excellent leader that leads your team to victory? Take the lead now and start working towards achieving your ultimate goal immediately because why wait for tomorrow when it can be done today!