How to Become a Real Leader Without a Title
Real leaders do not depend on the “leader” label to launch their leadership legacy. Where you begin does not matter. What you dream makes all the difference in the world.
4 People Who Became Real Leaders
- Scientist and former President of India, Abdul Kalam is one of the country’s most respected leaders. Starting from near poverty, he took odd jobs to pursue his education, studying aerospace engineering where he achieved great success.
- Jack Ma is founder and chairman of Alibaba Group, an Internet based company. He desired to learn English, so he rode his bike to a nearby hotel every day to talk to tourists. In addition, he failed an entrance exam at a university three times before going on to receive a BA in English. Furthermore, he does not write computer code and has not made one sale to a customer. Yet he became a student chairman, and later started a business with some US friends to build websites for Chinese companies. Today he is one of the richest men in the world.
- Stephen Biko was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. He grew up with modest means but always subject to the racism in his country. As a student leader he realized blacks and other minorities needed an organization of their own. As his activism and writings grew, he helped mobilize the urban black population. Agents of the government ended up killing him, but his impact helped change the politics of the nation.
- Ursula Burns was raised by her mother and grew up in the New York City housing projects. She persevered to get an education and received two degrees in engineering. She started at Xerox as a summer intern. Due to her conscientious work, she became executive assistant to a senior executive and her career took off from there. Today she is chairwomen and CEO of Xerox.
A Real Leader by Definition
A leader, by definition, is one who can lead a group, organization, business and/or country. Because of this, many everyday employees do not consider it the “right” time to begin their own leadership efforts. They are waiting for the promotion, the position, the award, or the outside recognition – to confirm that they are worthy of the status and authority that comes from being labeled a leader by others. The problem with this is that it seriously postpones their ability to actualize their potential.
Why wait for others to declare you a leader when you can decide to be one right now? What benefits does waiting bring you?
A real leader does not depend on a title — a real leader leads through everyday actions, ordinary events and in unusual circumstances. If you are waiting for someone else to call you a leader, you will be severely disappointed when that day finally comes, and you realize that nothing really changes besides the expectation’s others have for you. Taking it upon yourself to lead in ways that you can right now, gives you time to practice, experience to gain, and confidence to muster.
To be completely honest, I think that there is a very valid reason most employees would rather follow than attempt to lead — they are afraid of failure. When you start holding yourself to higher standards, you have further to fall when you fail. This can be an intimidating fear to conquer; however, I encourage you to challenge yourself. Failing and making mistakes are risks that are worth your while, especially when they are done in efforts to achieve more, inspire more and become more. The best leaders are not the ones that avoid mistakes, they are the ones that make the most of the mistakes they make.
So, here are 5 simple suggestions on ways you can lead even when you are not a “leader”:
- Encourage your coworkers. Notice their strengths, praise their accomplishments, and be aware of their contributions.
- Notice opportunities for change and improvement–and put together action plans on how to address these opportunities.
- Strive to manage what you typically expect your manager to manage. This does not mean that you should stop utilizing your manager and his/her resources and expertise–it does mean that you should ask yourself if you can do the things you typically expect him/her to do for you.
- Make the most of leadership resources in the meantime. It is never too early to start reading leadership blogs, soliciting feedback, or learning leadership lessons. Even if you cannot relate to everything, it will help to increase your knowledge and awareness for the future.
- Invest in your network. Find mentors, meet with others you respect and admire, ask questions, and do your best to invest in establishing and solidifying your network of already-established leaders.
Pulling It All Together
Do not wait for someone else to deem you a leader – do it yourself! You can define what you are and how you act and where you want to go–right now. It is amazing how far you might go, just like the four leaders described earlier. Consider this quote by former US President John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
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