Perhaps we should give some “serious” thought to the idea leadership. There are hundreds of great books and thousands of great articles out there on the topic; each one discussing many different elements of what makes a leader either good or bad. Unfortunately, so few discuss what I consider to be the essential element of any leadership idea or role.
Of course the definition of “leadership” is the action of leading a group of people or an organization. This seems simple enough, but I think it’s important that we dig just a little deeper to realize the true foundation. The definition of “leader” is the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country. That's fine, but we really need to define the word “lead” because THIS is the true root of leadership. When we do this, we discover that “lead” is the initiative in an action or an example for others to follow.
So let's take a second to own that by changing how we interpret it. I want you to consider that “leadership” is being the example for others to follow and being the one making the initiative in an action. This means that a leader must be willing to cause (a process or action) to begin and be willing to show others that doing so is the right thing to do - even if some disagree with it. That's a tall order to fill.
When we look at it this way, this is arguably one of the hardest things for any human to do and the exact reason why there are so few “real” leaders. This is because change is difficult and attempting that first step towards anything requires a substantial amount of bravery. What I really love about this idea is that when you really examine it, you find that being a leader requires bravery but that demonstrating bravery is actually being a leader. Think about the many different scenarios this might encompass. It could be innovating when told to follow the rules. It could be refusing to follow an unconstitutional law. It could be speaking out about injustice or stepping up to defend those who cannot or will not otherwise defend themselves. It could even be as simple as sharing an idea or article with someone that might disagree with it.
In today’s world, it seem like real bravery is hard to come by because we have done our best to avoid struggle or confrontation. Honestly, I think that this has a lot to do with how we are raised. Many parents and educational institutions teach and rely upon strict compliance. Rarely are children taught or allowed to think outside of the box or challenge long-standing ideas, authority or status quo. Even worse, children are taught that mistakes are bad and unfortunately, such mistakes are often over-punished by both parents and authority. I want you to understand that by subscribing to this model, we are condoning the process and creation of subservient followers. This is not a go do thing. The good news is that if you have any bravery in you, there are a few things that you can to do to break free of those chains that are holding you down.
What Can I Do?
To begin with, I want you to know that being a leader requires taking risks. It requires knowing that a failure is an opportunity to learn of a better way. Most importantly, it requires taking a step forward when others will not move or are telling you to take a step back. Leadership requires being ready to face and endure danger or pain and demonstrate courage to others via your actions.
Yes, being a leader is risky. An example might be finally telling your boss that you deserve a raise and providing the reasons why you will leave if it is not provided. It could be walking away from a sure thing that you hate for the opportunity of something you love. It’s courageously making the tough decisions. However, this is how victories and successes are achieved. Mary Tyler Moore once said “Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.”
I couldn’t agree more, but you must also embrace the idea that your position holds value and you need to stop holding yourself back and stop being so timid. Sometimes the only thing holding us back from great success is a little ambition. Bruce Lee said it best when he said “If you always put a limit on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”
You can get out of those plateaus by first getting rid of your anchors. You need to stop associating with people that treat you as anything less than what you know you are. Understand and accept that your circle of friends and family might be substantially reduced when you do this and be okay with that. Understand that you are better off without that in your life. Seriously! What do you really lose when a toxic or negative person is out of your life?
Next, go out of your way to discuss the issues or ideas that you’re passionate about. That’s right! I’m telling you to start the conversation for once. Feel free to write about your ideas and get it out there. In other words; share! Share your thoughts and opinions. Share things that interest you on social media or get into a debate. By doing so, you will find others that share similar ideas and you will find people who will lift you up rather than tear you down.
Risk being wrong; it’s okay! In other words, be as willing to learn as you are willing to teach. Something I often tell others is that one of the dumbest things we can do is to deny ourselves the opportunity of being wrong. We should desire the acquisition of new information and perspective. We should crave that growth if we truly want to be better people or have greater understanding. We should never let a preconceived notion dictate the information we will examine and we should never be so stubborn as to ignore even the most remote of possibilities. Unfortunately, this is almost the definition of the modern standard and we are clearly living its repercussions. If you want real change, be different; question everything.
On a similar note, you need to be willing to change your mind and know that it’s okay to do so. That's how we grow. If your view of the world hasn’t changed since High School, you’re probably doing something wrong. This requires objective thought. Seek an opportunity to change your beliefs. Of course, admitting that you were wrong about something and changing accordingly can be uncomfortable at times, but it’s necessary and shows the world that you are objective and methodical. So be willing to share that your perspectives have changed and understand that this will built trust in those who follow you.
Furthermore, being brave is not about comfort and it is not about the absence of fear. Being brave is very uncomfortable at times. You need to embrace the idea that this discomfort is okay. Thomas Paine once said “The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.” I believe this is great advice but one must be willing to engage before any of those can be achieved.
I also think it’s important for a leader to listen to their calling. Follow your heart and make decisions accordingly. Be methodical but do not compromise your integrity. It’s not worth it.
On that note, if something isn’t working, try a new direction. Try anything new. Be smart enough to recognize your weaknesses and ignorance and ask for help or advice when it’s needed. Nobody expects you to know everything and we simply cannot conquer the world on our own.
Since we cannot conquer the world our own, get the help you need and delegate, delegate, delegate. You do not have to personally control everything and there will always be those who are willing to stand behind you and help. One of the best tools in a leader’s toolbox is the power of delegation. You simply get more done that way.
Additionally, I’ve heard it best said that you should be willing to say no to the things you don't want and be willing to say yes to the things you do. That doesn’t mean that you just do whatever you want however you want to do them. Instead, it means that you do the right thing when you are being pressured to do something you know isn’t right.
Face reality and stop lying to yourself and others. Learn from the past and then let it go. You don’t need the negativity of the past pulling you down and you don’t have to live up to any prior high. Remember - Carpe diem and recognize that tomorrow may not come. Today is your best option if it can be seized.
On a similar note, understand that when you step forward to act first, there are going to be others who are afraid or who might disagree. Recognize this as an opportunity. Invite feedback and know that some (or many) will criticize. Don’t react to the criticism – remember… you’re the one who stepped forward; not them. However, be willing to learn from the feedback. A different perspective doesn’t mean your attempt or idea was wrong; it could just be that the feedback offers a different perspective and could make your idea that much stronger. Your followers are there to help. Let them help.
I want to end this article with a simple thought. Merely attempting any of these recommendations will help foster your bravery. The more you to do them, the braver you will become. The first step is trying one out and just doing it. Robert Frost said that “The best way out is always through.” So if you are in a shell, you need out of it. If you are in the past, you need out of it. If you are stuck in something, you need out of it. If the best way out is through, then George Patton had the right idea when he said “lead, follow or get out of the way.” This is your life and you need to LEAD it!
An Additional Thought
I want you to keep in mind that we must all accept that leaders are sometimes followers and followers are sometimes leaders. Both leaders and followers must remain flexible and open to when these opportunities arise. Do not be threatened by the leadership abilities of another and do not look down upon those who do not rise in the moment. Everyone will find their way or naturally step aside. Thankfully, at least for the most part, you get to choose which path you will take. Remember that even if you choose not to decide, you're still making a decision. You might as well just make the decision that puts you on the better end of it all. If you don't, someone else will surely make the decisions and that could put you in the place that you don't want to be.