What is a leader to you? For me, a leader is someone who you can trust to take control, and do so effectively. For most of us, the skills we associate with a leader center around three main aspects: commitment, communicative ability, and innovation. But which of these can you acquire through learning and training, and which are simply a matter of how fortunate you have been in the gene pool?
The characteristic basis for a good leader is informed by confidence and a positive attitude. But optimism is more than just waking up on the right side of the bed. A leader who views the glass as half empty is unlikely to consider that there may even be a need for the glass to be refilled. A leader on the lookout for a silver lining, on the other hand, will be inclined to shift relentlessly through every cloud, and may end up getting more work done just by the virtue of leaving no stones unturned. However, it is also important to be grounded and realistic. You need to realize if you are wasting your time pursuing goals that are, in the long run, likely to leave your resources exhausted for what might have been more attainable ends.
The most important thing, therefore, is to be aware. Being aware of your surroundings, your circumstances and the tools and resources available to you is essential. Once you can learn to take stock, an inclination to prioritize will follow; and with the right amount of hard work and honesty, these resonate in the wake of good results.
In other words, you must be ready, willing, and able.
And indeed, most studies surrounding the feasibility of learning leadership skills tell us this: there’s only so much you can bring to the table only through your inborn abilities. You may have an innate gift for leadership, but without the right tools and training, that ability remains unrefined and unpolished; only a shadow of what could have been.
One important idea to acquaint yourself with in this concern is that there will always be someone “better” than you. What is good is, to an extent, subjective, after all—as long as there are things about yourself that you don’t like (no matter whether these flaws are perceptible to anybody besides you), you will always find yourself wishing to be more like that Tom, that Dick, or that Harry who, in your opinion, is better at this or that. What ultimately happens when you let such thoughts foster is that your insecurities build upon each other until, a foundation for self-deprecation and self-sabotage is built. Recognizing this is key to building your confidence. How much you can believe in yourself rests almost entirely on a complete, accurate and unfettered evaluation of your own skill set. So look away from what Tom/Dick/Harry is busying himself with. And with confidence and awareness come a ready ability to commit.
The University of Illinois defines leadership as “an individual influencing a group of people toward a common goal.” What follows from this is a demonstration of your communicative abilities. Just how good are you with people? Do you falter in the face of conversation with someone new, shy away from getting involved in an intellectually charged discussion or choose not to raise your hand to contribute an opinion in class? If you nodded your head “yes” to any of these questions, this is what you need to know: you don’t need to be anybody else but who you are. Be consistent in your character, and do so with conviction. The other person is just that—a person; we are all people just doing our best.
This is why two-way communication is imperative. Too often a gap in communication leads inevitably to a bad situation where educated guesses cannot be made due to a lack of information. It’s the same reason why, at a coffee shop, your order is yelled over to the employees in the background. You effectively have your order repeated back to you, and simultaneously, delegation has been achieved by your cashier.
It is important to realize that unless you put yourself out there, you will remain uninformed, and so will everybody else.
And finally, the secret ingredient: an open mind. When you come across an obstacle, what do you do? You either let it defeat you or you climb over it. The way to do this is to acknowledge that by its very nature the world offers us an interminable array of opportunities and alternatives. If you find yourself in a situation where your first thought is “I can’t,” start to think of ways to change your situation until the opposite happens. Acquiring knowledge is a lifelong journey. Don’t let yourself be restrained by what may appear to be unique difficulties: in reality, every obstacle you encounter is modeled on another. And with an open mind, you’re always aware of the possibility of defeat.
Finally, a leader does not remain boxed in by 7-point Forbes articles on how to be a millionaire… They go out and write their own article about it.
So go do your thing. Stay aware, put yourself out there, and always keep learning!