New graduates often enter the workforce with the idea that they are the “leaders of tomorrow”
because that is what all of the old clichés have told them. They have long-term goals of landing
themselves a “leadership role” and often connect that with achieving success. But what is a
leadership role? What does it mean to be a leader?
Leaders are not appointed, promoted, or hired to be a leader. You do not become a leader automatically because you are a manager, an executive, or even the founder of a company. You may be a manager, but managers manage data, projects, and processes; people cannot be managed. You may be an entrepreneur who can organize and operate a business, but leadership is about more than keeping a company afloat. While there may be an expectation of you to be a leader as you rise up the ranks, not all people in positions of prestige, power, and status are leaders. In fact, the vast majority of people are not the leaders of tomorrow.
Leaders lead by example and inspire others to change. Effective leaders gain the respect of their followers and can influence them to want better, to do better, to be better. A leader does not control the team by giving orders but is wholeheartedly a part of that team. You lead a team by working alongside your people to help them and inspire them to achieve more, ultimately moving everyone toward a shared mission and vision. Mahatma Gandhi did not give orders or instill fear, but he got an entire nation to follow his lead because of genuine inspiration.
If your goal is simply to be successful in your personal pursuits, you may not be cut out to be a leader. But if your goal is to drive your organization to be successful, then you’re on the right track. When we live in a culture where personal success is defined as having achieved popularity, profit, or distinction and where competition has taken front stage, sometimes it can be hard to focus on the bigger picture. Leaders direct their focus away from themselves and toward the larger goal of building a successful organization. They still have ambition, but that ambition lies in the success of the organization, not themselves. A good leader is not concerned with being in the spotlight but is focused on results. The best way to measure the success of leaders is not in their personal success but in the success of those who follow them.
Now, it is not necessarily objectionable to say that your goal in life is to be personally successful and prosperous; after all, that is the American Dream, right? But you shouldn’t confuse or equate your position or personal success with that of being a leader. Leaders guide others to achieve success and appreciate what a high-performing team can accomplish rather than make their career about outdoing everyone else and rising to the top. No degree, no courses on leadership, and no extended time in a job is going to make you a leader. It is your attitude, your humility, your willingness to serve, your ability to communicate, and your sincere desire to make a difference that will naturally make people want to follow you. Don’t just aspire to be successful, aspire to lead. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Make a difference.
Effective leaders gain the respect of their followers and can influence them to want better, to do better, to be better. A leader does not control the team by giving orders but is wholeheartedly a part of that team. You lead a team by working alongside your people to help them and inspire them to achieve more, ultimately moving everyone toward a shared mission and vision.
To be a leader is to have a deep passion for fulfilling a mission and for inspiring others to follow you.
It takes putting aside your own self-interests for the sake of the greater good.
Building up others and appreciating their contributions instead of feeling threatened by them.
Having greater visions of where your company is trying to go while leaving the path open for others to grow into leaders.