How does a person become an actual leader?
I don't know how much readers of this blog have thought about leadership. One thing is for sure, there are leaders all around you, some with loads of followers and responsibility and many more with few followers and only a little bit of responsibility. Yet, all leaders face similar challenges and have to overcome similar obstacles.
Back to the path to leadership, you have heard it said that, "Leaders are born and not made." That quotation has always stuck in my craw a bit. If that statement is true, then the only humans that will be good a leading are the folks that are born with the ability. In addition, I question, are there enough of these natural born leaders to fill all of the leadership positions in the world? I believe that my answer to that question would be, "No".
If we don't have as many natural leaders as we do leadership positions, then what?
Do we have a bunch of leadership positions filled with people who aren't up to the task?
Who actually does the leading in any organization?
If leaders CAN be made, at least to a certain extent, how do we make them?
What resources are available for someone interested in exercising their leadership muscles?
What are the things that a successful leader does? (Born or Made)
Leadership, what in the Wide World of Sports is it?
Leadership, like so many things in our world, is interwoven into the human experience in a fashion that we don't really spend the time to ponder what it is. Any concentration on the subject can lead to circular thinking quickly. I mean, try to provide a definition for some of the simplest words in the English language and see how difficult it becomes. Define "what", "is", "do", or any color of the rainbow.
Sometimes we end up defining things more by what they are not and what other things are associated with the object of our interest.
Leaders need followers. Who are they? Are they volunteers? Are they captives? What compels them to follow anything or anybody?
Leaders need their followers to follow their lead. How do they get followers to go along for the ride? Are they offering an incentive? Is cult of personality what draws follower in? Is there something that only the leader can provide for the followers? Are both leaders and followers driven by ego and self-interest?
The way that any reader may answer the many questions that have already shown up in this post will give structure to his/her view of leadership.
Leadership Examples (Good & Bad)
Want to be part of a gang? There is likely a leader of the gang and there are likely qualifications that a candidate for gang membership must have or obtain in order to gain membership. Maybe you have to peddle some drugs at school or in your neighborhood. Maybe you have to participate in a drive-by shooting. Conformity of the organization.
How does the gang leader keep you from leaving the organization and keep you continuing to contribute to the common goals of the gang?
In this case, the follower is likely compelled to contribute. There could be a threat of bodily harm or death for stepping out of line. (The stick) Then there would perhaps be some benefits like making money fast. (The carrot)
What of the leader that encourages those around him/her regardless of performance? Someone with vision and creativity. If you're on the team, you are part of the team. Everybody is in it together.
Ever seen the "Snow Globe" play that the Kansas City Chiefs ran against the Las Vegas Raiders in week 18 last year? The offense huddled up and then proceeded to dance in a circle before breaking huddle and getting into formation on the 9-yard line. Well, it ended up in a called back touchdown due to a holding penalty, but what of the creativity and having fun doing your job? Andy Reid is known for being a creative offensive play caller, but he didn't come up with the whole idea. Patrick Mahomes and the offensive unit had input. Not something that the head of the team said absolutely had to be done because he/she said so.
Carrots & Sticks
"Sticks" first. Think about how you have felt when being compelled to do a task. Got a spouse that is riding your backside about a task that you haven't completed in a timely fashion? Had a parent that told you that you couldn't go out with your friends this weekend until you had cleaned your bedroom? What about a boss who told you that you have to work on a holiday weekend or your job is on the line? "Sticks" are effective tools when implemented to achieve a singular task. They don't recognize autonomy. They can be one size fits all and fail to account for individuals that are in a unique situation. What happens when the cat is away? I've heard that the mice will play.
"Carrots" second. There are rewards for doing the "right" thing. Say you don't really want to go to the gym to workout, but you do want to look better and feel better. Maybe working harder and more efficient for part of the year will garner a sizable bonus check. What happens when you reach your goal weight? What happens once the bonus check is cashed?
The Third Leg of the Stool
What about a 3rd option. Does a 3rd option even exist? What about a culture/environment where you are allowed to be you? A place, not without hard boundaries, that let's you express yourself and own your actions when you accomplish positive goals. A place that let's you come up with ideas of your own and offer innovative solutions to age old problems. In this hypothetical place, do you do things for your team that make them look better, instill pride in your work product, and please the customer base? When you take ownership of your work product, has the process and the product become a part of you?
If that place exists, what is the leader in the organization doing to foster your growth?