Leadership. It’s a word so overused and celebrated that it has almost lost its meaning. It has become a generic goal—something everyone aspires to, though they may not know what it means. Before you decide you want to be a leader, make sure you know what you’re getting into.
Here are a few things that leadership is NOT:
Leadership is not management. Leaders focus on the big picture, the vision, the “why.” Managers get stuff done; they focus on the tactical. Both are important. If you want to be a leader, let go of the details. Find others who are good at the “how.” You stay focused on the “why.”
Leadership is not a popularity contest. Certainly, to be a leader, you need people. Yet having adoring fans is not the point. Leaders move. They inspire change. They guide others on the path forward. If people—including you—aren’t moving, you aren’t leading.
Leadership is not rank. Hopefully, the highest ranking members of an organization are good leaders, but there’s no guarantee. Neither is rank a prerequisite—you can be a leader regardless of your title, position, or status. Leadership is a decision; it’s a mindset.
To be a leader, you must have a vision, you must move toward that vision, and you must inspire others to join you on the journey.
There’s another requirement for leadership, though, that is so obvious we rarely stop to consider it: If you want to be a leader, you must be willing to be seen.
Have you ever followed someone in a car? Nowadays, with GPS, we don’t need to follow each other that often. If we know the destination, we can get there without a “leader.” Not that many years ago, however, you’d be headed somewhere and your friend or colleague might say, “Just follow me.” Inevitably, the friend would zip through a yellow light and you’d get stuck at the signal… wondering where to turn.
How do you follow someone you can’t see?
You don’t. You can’t! A huge part of leadership is simply being visible to the people you lead.
But you know what? Letting people really, truly SEE you is an awfully vulnerable position to put yourself in. You open yourself up for rejection and ridicule. That’s why leadership takes courage.
Here are three ramifications of being seen that leaders are willing to accept:
- Leaders are willing to receive attention. Even if they’re shy. Even if they don’t particularly LIKE people. Leaders can handle attention. They don’t necessarily seek it. They certainly don’t flaunt it. Yet because leaders have ideas that are bigger than themselves, they understand that they need people to move forward.
Leaders refuse to hide. They know you have to see them to trust them and follow them. They communicate a strong, grounded, tangible presence. It doesn’t have to be loud or flashy. Introverts can be leaders, too. But if you want to be a leader and create change, you must be willing to be noticed.
- Leaders are willing to make mistakes. Publically. Oooh, this one’s tough. We all know no one is perfect. Including ourselves. But we sure like to pretend we’re perfect when others are looking our way! It’s one thing to have secret flaws and make hidden mistakes. It’s another to have those on display.
If you’re creating change, you’re going to meet opposition. The opposition will be the first to spot and share every little thing you do wrong. Your commitment to your vision must be bigger than your fear of criticism or rejection to be a leader.
- Leaders are willing to shine a light on others. Just because they are comfortable in the spotlight doesn’t mean they hoard it. Leaders beget leaders. They encourage and inspire others to take the lead in their own lives. They appreciate the efforts of those who are working toward the same goal and support each other. They communicate gratitude and are generous with praise.
How are all these things possible? Keep the big picture in mind. You can accept attention, bear criticism, and share the glory when you’re working toward a vision that is bigger than yourself. If you are a leader, it’s not about you. That might be disappointing if you’re in it for your ego, but it helps take the pressure off.
Are you willing to be seen? Learn to be comfortable in your own skin when others are looking at you, and you’ll find your capacity for leadership increases.
Change your communication, change your life.