What is a leader? Is it a CEO of a business? Is it the founder of a non-profit? Is it the ruler of a country?
They all hold positions of power and prestigious titles and so they must be, right? Not necessarily. True leadership is not defined by a title but rather by the characteristics embodied in a person’s journey to make a positive difference in some way.
You can be a CEO, but not a leader. You can be a leader and hold no title at all. There are individuals all around us that are truly leading and empowering others with little or no recognition.
So, what defines a leader? Having worked with thousands of individuals and agencies in driving positive economic and workforce development, as well as meeting many leaders through the iHeart Radio Movers & Shakers program I co-host with Jack Heath, I have discovered that while each is unique, true leaders tend to possess five common attributes.
Leadership starts with passion. Passion to make a profound difference in an area that you care about. It comes from deep within and is so strong that you simply can’t help but act on it. Parenting is one common area where I’ve seen many great acts of leadership in this regard. Hence, the title Mom and Dad often represent great leaders. Others include the person at your local volunteer fire station who chooses to get up in the middle of the night when needed and save lives.
Once passion is ignited in the human spirit, determination typically follows. This is important because taking on a cause or fulfilling a purpose is not without its challenges. Ask any parent. Great leaders understand this and view no obstacle as insurmountable when it comes to making progress toward their goal. Determination drives the desire and capacity to routinely be proactive in this regard. It can also be the energy that fuels others to join forces in following great leaders and pursue progress together.
In addition to facing many obstacles, true leaders come up against challenges that can be quite intimidating as well as life-threatening. Ask anyone of our brave servicemen and women who are routinely placed in the line of fire as the price of our collective freedoms. It takes courage as well, to face many less-tangible threats. This includes our inner voices when they say we’re not good enough, smart enough, or skilled enough to move ahead. Whether tangible or intangible, risk and fear are common demons that truly great leaders muster the courage to frequently take on and overcome.
Great leaders don’t just have the courage to continue forward despite challenges and uncertainty. They are also very innovative and resourceful. In addition to using the tools they may already possess to move ahead, great leaders are able to routinely acquire new resources. This not only includes developing new skills, knowledge, and experience but also includes working well with and through others. One plus one means way more than two under good leadership. This is proved repeatedly among winning sports teams who all benefit from strong leadership. These types of leaders stand out because they easily recognize the value that each person offers the team and are able to empower that person to perform well toward a shared goal.
All truly great leaders are adaptable. In life (and business) there are fixed and variable factors. Fixed factors are things you cannot change, and variable factors are things that you can. For example, if you wanted to be the center on a professional basketball team, but are only 5’ tall, you may have a problem. On the other hand, if you want to manage a professional basketball team, height is not a factor. This simple example points out that many factors may appear fixed, yet with a bit of ingenuity, may also be used to attain similar goals. True leaders think this way. They understand that being flexible is important. This is true at any moment as well as over time as factors change – and they always will.
As human beings, all of us possess these same five characteristics. It is the degree to which we allow them to flourish over time and at different stages and phases of our lives that determine whether we become a leader or not. It all begins with passion. If you’re interested in learning more about how to find your leader within, check out Kick-Ass Leadership (Book, Audio, and Kindle formats). For a weekly dose of inspiration, tune into Movers & Shakers every Saturday at 11:00 am on iHeart Radio and listen to prior podcasts at www.kickassmoversandshakers.com.