How does a student or a co-worker exhibit leadership without being taught? Can someone be a leader without a high-profile title?
Is it something they were born with, just like their genes or is someone supposed to show us how to be a leader? What is the recipe to becoming a leader so that each one of us could be one?
The bigger question is, why do we need to be leaders?
For now, we have to recognize that it’s the need of the hour.
To begin on this journey, we need to start with personal leadership. As an article from McKinsey & Co explored how important it was for those leading from the front during the COVID19 pandemic to take care of themselves, because if they cannot stay upbeat, then its game over.
If I can lead myself calmly in the face of a crisis or an unexpected situation, without upsetting the apple cart or breaking down, I have learnt the art of leadership.
Do I need a title or even be paid to do that? No.
In fact, if I can’t do that, I might not be a highly sought-after employee in the Post-COVID19 era. If I continue on this trail of breaking down, complaining or throwing my hands in the air each time there’s a crisis, I might slowly be chipping away at my indispensability for future roles. This would be regardless of my technical expertise and years of experience.
Another potential employee with more resilience, flexibility, and “calm in the face of a storm” attitude, can easily be taught a technical skill.
The future employees will need to exhibit skills in the area of emotional intelligence, flexibility, mindfulness, focus, creativity and resilience. Employers may be attracted to ‘roll with the punches’ kind of employees.
Leaders are born vs groomed
Over ages, we have debated whether leaders are born or made. Let’s assume leaders are born. In that scenario, no amount of training or coaching would make non-leaders learn that skill, unless we can use the recombinant DNA technology to make genetically modified leaders.
In that case, the recent rise in interest with leadership training programs would also not have gained traction. People would not be paying big ticket prices to attend these training sessions and there would not be any testimonials or successes to showcase how leadership training made a difference in a group, program, community or organization.
The essence of true leadership is when someone is able to show everyone involved in a project or workplace, a sense of purpose and their role in making it successful.
Going forward, anyone can do that. Anyone who believes in their own skills, anyone who believes in others, anyone who does not let fear of uncertainty take over their cognition.
History is witness to many such leaders like Kennedy, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln who exemplified leadership in the face of extreme crises. As a result, they were able to mobilize massive movements, that at the start looked too formidable to tackle. They led by example and were able to chunk down the ultimate goal into manageable bites that gave clarity at the level of individual responsibility.
Human Excellence is a State of Mind - Socrates
In that light, I would like to hypothesize that each one of us is born to follow a life of purpose and lead a cause with an inherent ability. Sometimes, we may be born with more accessibility and agency but more importantly, we can all be leaders whenever we decide to be.
Making that decision comes from a certain degree of self-awareness, an understanding of knowing who you are, clarity of values and strengths and weaknesses, knowing what to go after and also what not to pursue, focusing and understanding how to get what one wants and then having a clear plan to achieve that dream.
According to Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, SIYLI, each one of us has the ability to influence others and in effect, each one of us is a leader. Though it looks like a simple blueprint for leadership, yet it’s a discipline that gets better with practice.
To be an effective leader, we need to have emotional intelligence that allows us “to be aware of, control and express one's emotions, as well as handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”.
According to Daniel Goleman, self-awareness is the first step of becoming a leader. Goleman defined the 5 interconnected components of emotional intelligence in that order:
- Self Regulation
- Social Skills
When we are able to understand what drives us, and have a clarity of our values, we have a framework within which to operate with focus. In the face of challenges, we are then able to exhibit personal leadership, leading our lives with focus, courage and consistency, that inspires others to follow.