I will never forget the moment when I heard this question during a leadership our leadership seminar in highschool: “Why would anyone choose to follow you as their leader?” My thoughts immediately turned to my work and to those who reported to me. I wondered, “Why would they follow me, what do I really offer?” Then I thought of my group in our class and wondered why my group mates would choose to follow me, and how and where was I leading them. Finally my thoughts turned to all the others with whom I associate and I pondered what I could possibly offer to them from a leadership standpoint. Needless to say I felt very inadequate as I realized how much I needed to grow. Although this experience proved to be rather sobering, it also proved to be a valuable time of healthy reflection and self-evaluation.
Let me ask you the same question. Why would anyone choose to follow you? What kind of leader are you? What do you offer to others? Do you even see yourself as a leader? I suggest that everyone, to some degree, wears the hat of a leader, even if it is self-leadership (which, by the way, is the most important leadership of all).
So how can you become an effective leader? Peter Drucker, a well-known leadership consultant, identifies some critical elements of leadership in his article titled, “Leadership: More Doing Than Dash.” Take a moment to measure you against these principles and establish some new goals.
As we start, please don’t make the mistake of confusing charisma with leadership. Although charisma might be helpful, this trait is certainly not necessary to become a great leader. You see, the measure of true leadership is performance, achieving the desired results. Charisma is not a critical part of the recipe.
As an example, consider Dwight Eisenhower or Harry Truman. They were both extremely effective leaders, but neither possessed, as Peter Drucker put it, “any more charisma than a dead mackerel.” Consider two more examples: no one had less charismatic personalities than Abe Lincoln, the raw-boned, uncouth backwoodsman of 1860, or Konrad Adenhauer, the chancellor who rebuilt West Germany after World War II. In fact, relying only on charisma could be the undoing of leaders if they become inflexible, convinced of their own infallibility and unable to change. This is what happened to Stalin, Hitler and Mao.
So what is leadership if it is not charisma? It is the task of creating vision and human energy. It is instilling in others a hope and belief that they can create change for the better. It is tapping into the talents of each to bring out their best. Leadership is the ability to work and get real results, to set goals in harmony with a mission, to set priorities, and to maintain standards which are not compromised in the pursuit of obtaining those goals. Leaders see leadership as a responsibility, rather than as rank or privilege. When things go wrong – and they always do – they do not blame others. Leaders refuse to exhibit victim attitude or behavior. Harry Truman’s folksy saying, “The buck stops here,” may best sum up a leader’s attitude.
Another requirement of an effective leader is the ability to earn trust! Otherwise, there will be no followers – and the definition of a leader is someone who has followers. To be trusted does not always mean you will be liked or be popular; it does not mean that all will agree with you. But people who trust you know that you mean what you say, and that your professed beliefs are congruent with your actions. They believe that you as a leader possess something very “old-fashioned” called integrity. Trust is not based on being clever, but on being consistent. Trust is not based on character or competence alone, but on both combined.
Perhaps the most important aspect of leadership is that it is not something you are born with, but something you can develop! When all is said and done, it is the results you deliver that will truly determine the real measure of your effectiveness as a leader.
I ask again: Why would anyone choose to follow you? As you ponder, consider the above principles as a possible template for becoming a leader. Consider these same principles as you determine whom you will follow.
Lastly, I encourage you to lead out in one more way: Be a leader by giving the “small things” of life. After all, isn’t it really the small things in life that are the big things?