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June 19, 2007

I want to be a leader...

Originally uploaded by Suresh Chennai.
...I will not try to be a leader.

So much of what I'm reading about leadership these days is along the lines of "to thine own self be true." In other words, just be yourself, and people will follow you. So it occurs to me that any attempt to take transformative steps to become a quote-unquote leader is doomed to fail. Why? Because trying to become like what you think a leader should be like is not likely to also allow you to be true to yourself. In other words, the more you try change yourself to become what you think a leader should be, the less you will try to be yourself. Unless of course those two things are exactly the same, in which case, you have nothing to change. You are a natural born leader!

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Jamie Notter said...

Yes, but...

"Being" yourself is not a static state. You must develop, and you must actually choose how to develop, and in those choices you can think about developing leadership capacity.

I agree leadership is not about imitating leaders (or internal images of leaders), and I agree you need to be (and know) yourself. But being yourself doesn't always mean you're doing what you need to do as a leader.

Joe Grant said...

Good point Ben and Jamie...and...

If someone chooses to be a leader, they need to work at it everyday.

They're always looking for lessons and opportunities to test their leadership skills. This includes the times when no one is looking.

They read everything they can about becoming a more effective leader. They are life-long students and are on a never ending quest to understand people.

Aspiring leaders SHOULD look to leaders they admire and study their leadership qualities, habits and skills. What is it about that person that makes others want to follow them?

There's nothing wrong with emulating those noble qualities and working on ourselves to become more effective leaders and better people.

Whether we realize it or not, this is something we've been doing from the time we entered the world as a baby and it is something we will do until the day we die.

And yes, part of being a leader is having self confidence. Accepting and being happy with who we are today.

It also means that we should understand our weaknesses and work to improve them. Be proud of our strengths and build on them even further.

There's the whole nature vs. nurture discussion, but I do believe that anyone who desires to become a leader can.

Like anything else in life...if we aspire to attain something, we must work hard at it everyday!

Ben Martin, CAE said...

Jamie, as a conflict resolution guy, I thought "yes but" would be stricken from your vocabulary. :-)

Being a leader requires labor.

@ Joe, I agree about your emulation point, insofar as the leaders I will admire should have a similar leadership style to the one that I have been granted. Does that make sense? Put another way, I don't want to emulate a great leader if her/his style is completely incongruent with the style that I possess.

Jamie Notter said...

When a conflict resolution guy gives you a "yes but," it's actually a compliment, because he knows you can handle it! ;-)

In Joe's comment, I have trouble with the word "emulate." Internalize, yes, but emulate no, in my opinion. When I see effective leadership behavior in anyone, I internalize the essence of it, but that's different than copying.

Nancy said...

If you THINK you are a leader and no one is following....are you really just out for a walk?

You must demonstrate the behaviors that others perceive as leadership behaviors in order to be seen as a leader. You can lead one or many, but OTHERS must believe you are a leader.

Joe Grant said...

@Jamie - Maybe a better word is synergize. If you simply internalize a quality, then there wouldn't be any outward manifestation of the leadership qualities in practice.

I do believe there are times when you cannot put your fingers on all the details, so emulation jump-starts the growing process - helping the other pieces fall into place.

Then as a person learns more about how the qualities fit within their personality and style, they can tweak them and synergize them with their own style.

Does that make sense?

David Gammel said...

The biggest challenge I faced when I had staff leadership roles was transitioning from seat-of-the-pant leadership to more intentional leadership.

If you want to implement lasting change you have to be leading with intent, which is a subtle change. Seat of the pants got me through many short term challenges quite well but was lacking for the long term stuff.

Joe Grant said...

@David - Also, transitioning from a management role to a leadership role can be very difficult for a lot of people.

They involve different qualities and behaviors and often times, really good managers have a difficult time getting out of the minutia to lead.

Jamie Notter said...

Joe: I mean no offense, but I personally HATE the word synergize. I'll also push back on the concept. I do think everything that is internalized ends up being expressed externally. I would argue that is one of the most important lessons about leadership. I do see the point about trying things to see how they feel. But I see that as experimenting rather than copying, and must include time for learning that is intenally focused.

Joe Grant said...

Jamie - No offense taken. :-)

We all have our own interpretation of what leadership means - and that's a good thing.

Ultimately, we all have to choose what's best for our own personal style and growth.

Whether it's through synergizing or internalizing the goal is the same - to become a better leader and a better person. I don't think they're mutually exclusive.

BTW - I like the concept of synergy - a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct elements - but I do think the word is overused.

Syano said...

I remember reading biographies of leaders there are people who exhibited leadership skills while still young. Hence, they are born leaders, but still there are quite a few who showed leadership skills later in life. has relevant articles on leadership you might want to explore.