For many, a leader is by definition a manager.
This is only partially true.
We discussed leadership a lot here, and it is a fact that you can read our articles in a way that they say that a leader is what every manager should be.
This is a fact: most companies would be much more profitable is they were run by leaders rather than managers.
Nevertheless, as many remarked in their comments to our recent ‘You’ve been promoted, few tips to become a leader’ editorial, you don’t need to be a manager to be a leader.
You’ll never find a realistic job description that tells you what is expected from you as a leader.
Being a leader is an attitude; it’s a way to look at life and its challenges.
In many organizations, the real leaders are not among the management team – unfortunately.
One of the finest leader definition you can find comes from Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group, who said that “leadership is defined not by the position you hold, but by the people who willingly follow you”.
The important word here is ‘willingly’.
You do not necessarily follow your boss willingly; in many cases, you follow them because you have no choice, because that’s part of your job, that's what is expected from you no matter what you think.
On the other hand, no one forces you to follow a leader – you do because you believe it is the right thing to do.
So, what is to be a leader?
How do you recognize a leader at first sight?
Here are the attributes that will tell you if you have a leader around you, or if you are true leader material.
First and foremost, a leader is a visionary.
Why would you expect a group of individuals to willingly follow someone who has no vision, who cannot point to a positive and exciting destination?
A leader gives a purpose.
People need a purpose to happily get up every morning – a purpose other than making a paycheck.
If we go back for an instant to the old manager vs. leader opposition, the manager will tell you to follow them to make a leaving; the leader will give you a reason to make a life – and, by the way, will not 'tell' you anything.
Being visionary is not an easy task.
Only true leaders can succeed.
What’s the point of being a visionary if you cannot communicate your vision?
A leader doesn’t necessarily need to be a perfect orator à la Cicero, but they need to be articulate enough to express their thoughts and ideas in a way that everyone can understand – it doesn’t involve spoken words only, but also body language, repeated actions to translate in real life what they say, care.
Too many speak very well and tell to your face what they think you want to hear, not meaning a word of it.
A leader means what they say.
Not a doormat
A leader is not afraid to stand for what they believe is true and correct, and are ready to face the consequences.
It doesn’t mean that leaders are to be rude:
Quite the opposite! Even to their worst opponent, leaders remain polite and courteous – they will use rudeness only as a last resort tool.
A leader who doesn’t stand for what they believe in would lose immediately all leadership, losing consequently their followers.
It goes without saying, a leader shows the way, they are not followers.
Therefore, creativity plays a big part in leadership.
A leader doesn’t follow the old paths – they look for new, better, more effective routes.
Leaders look forward to exploring new ways, new ideas new concept, new strategies.
A leader definitively thinks outside the box; and whenever possible they anticipate to think beyond the box!
A leader knows that we all make mistakes; leaders are no different: they make mistakes like anyone else.
When they did something wrong, leaders he no problem recognizing it and to apologize whenever required.
Also, leaders take responsibility for their mistakes and readily correct them immediately, but – not being a doormat – they refuse to take responsibility for others’ mistakes.
On the other hand, they have no issue acknowledging that they cannot fix problems by themselves when all go South, and ask for help as positive outcomes is what drive them, not personal gain.
A leader has the humility to acknowledge their mistake and ask for help whenever necessary.
Being a leader is not easy task.
Leaders need to have a thick skin (the more they demonstrate their leadership abilities, the more enemies they’ll make and the more they will be a living target!).
A thick-skin is necessary if only to survive a very challenging world where leadership is recognized as a necessary skill, but also is a skill that those who cannot master it strongly oppose it by all available means.
To ‘survive’ those continuous attacks, leaders must not be afraid to take risks.
On the other hand, true leaders don’t jump blindly:
They calculate risks – when they jump they know exactly what it entails and what are the consequences of their decisions.
A leader knows that they need to take calculated risks to ‘keep the ball running’, if not they remain static and they lose their reason of being – leadership.
A leader pays attention.
Leadership means listening to what others have to say, welcoming their suggestions and ideas (as long as they are constructive and positive), and overall care.
Leaders care for the project they work on to ensure its success, for the people involved in that project – even if the leader is not the project manager, but simply one of the team members; regardless of their position, leaders always make a difference.
Leaders are naturally attentive to their environment, simply because they care.
A leader knows that there is not only one way to achieve their vision or intermediary goals.
As the old idiom says, ‘all roads lead to Rome’, meaning that we always have more than one way to do anything.
Leaders know that if they failed that way, they can try another way, and another way, and another way until they succeed.
Each failure is a lesson that makes them stronger – if they don’t repeat endlessly the same or similar mistake.
Leaders celebrate flexibility as being one of the most important leadership tools.
As you see, anyone can be a leader.
Leaders can be found in all walks of life and not only in companies at managerial positions.
Leaders are important for society and the well-being of all.
Are you a leader yourself?
Do you know any remarkable leader at work or around you in your personal life?