What Makes A Leader? The Simple Truth.

A question to start the discussion. What makes a leader? There are literally hundreds of books, podcasts, conferences, and other resources that work to define what makes a leader. Each resource has ideas, characteristics, processes, research, and other content which attempts to define what and how to become a leader and yet, none of them have been proven to make a leader. We still live in a world where good leaders are hard to find.

First, we know that while some people have a leadership skill as part of their makeup, and we also know that individuals who desire to learn and grow as a leader can develop into great leaders. Leadership development is a journey and becoming a great leader takes time.

So, what makes a leader? A leader is not created by title, education, experience, or position in the hierarchy. The answer is simple. What makes a leader is people. To be considered a leader there is a need to have people who are willing to buy into the vision, and then support the leader as the vision is realized. A leader needs followers because without followers as leadership guru John Maxwell says, “if you are leading and no one is following you are just on a walk.”

Let’s expand on the leadership definition as many would argue if you had people reporting to you, that makes you a leader … not so fast. Again, in the simplest terms a leader (usually considered a manager and not a leader) may have followers because they must follow. They may have to follow because they need the paycheck, or there is a legal requirement to follow. Regardless of the reason, if people are following out of necessity, then there is a reasonable chance the leader is the leader only in title and not because of a buy-in for a greater purpose. This is at best managing and at the worst an autocratic process. A good leader has followers because they want to follow, a great leader has followers because they want to follow, and the people believe in and trust them as a leader.

Far too often, especially in larger organizations individuals are given (or assume) the title of leader inappropriately. If you are in a leadership role ask yourself this one question, are the people who report to me, are they following me because they have to follow me or is it because they want to join me on the journey knowing we are working for a greater purpose and as they engage on the journey they will be empowered to become more than they ever thought they could be?

If you are not creating purpose, empowering, and growing those you are responsible and accountable for, you are not leading.

Sterling Martin

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