Four Questions About Leadership

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

If you are really concerned about the welfare of the people who work for you, it shows in every act you do. Really try to put yourself in their place and encourage them to get something out of their jobs. Make them part of the whole–make them understand their jobs are important in the total picture of government. Very few people don’t want to do a good job. There are very few people who don’t go home at night feeling better if they’ve done a good job. But they need to be assured that their jobs are important. Gen. Verne Orr, Secretary of the Air Force

I hear four questions asked about leadership often. This article gives a short answer to each of these critical questions.

Question 1: Why Does Leadership Matter?

Parents universally hope that their children develop leadership qualities. They know that leaders are influential in what they do, are respected by others, and are typically rarely rewarded for those skills in a variety are effective in what they do, are respected by others, and are typically rewarded for those skills in many ways. It is in these formative years that, through our parents, we first see leadership as desirable and essential.

As young people, we look up to people around us who motivate and listen to us, people who seem like real-life heroes. We consider these people leaders.

As we grow, we relate leaders to their jobs. For example, ministers, teachers, and police officers. And later Mayors, Presidents, and CEOs. I am sure you can list more positions you uniquely hold to a higher standard.

As adults, all these thoughts and experiences define why we think leaders have desirable traits and play roles we admire (and why we want these things for our children).

All these experiences and thoughts help us define why leadership matters. It matters because leaders are influential and can shape the future. It matters because leaders are valued and valuable. In everyone’s mind, leadership, especially when it is good, matters.

Question 2: What is a Leader?

A leader is a person who sees something that needs to be done, knows that they can help make it happen, and gets started.

A leader sees an opportunity and captures it.

A leader sees a future that can be different and better and helps others see that picture too.

Leader knows they cannot do it alone.

A leader is a coach.

A leader is an encourager.

A leader views change as their ally.

A leader is willing to take risks today for something better tomorrow.

A leader is a learner.

A leader is a communicator.

A leader is a coordinator.

A leader is a listener.

A leader takes a long view letting their vision keep their daily steps on track.

A leader is enthusiastic.

A leader motivates and inspires.

A leader values result.

A leader cares about more than results; she cares about those following her lead.

A leader makes a difference in the lives of others.

A leader is all these things and much more.

Question 3: Are People Born Leaders?

Sure, they are. I mean, everyone is born.

You might say that riddle-like answer misses the point. You say the honest answer is that people are truly born to lead.

And I would reply that your joint statement implies that others are not born to be leaders. 

So, let us examine that difference of opinion…

People describe someone as a born leader typically mean that the person is motivating, a good communicator, and charismatic. And it is true; people are blessed at birth with more natural abilities in these ways. 

But leaders can be great with different innate characteristics as well.

And there is no single small skill set that defines the perfect leader or guarantees success.

Everyone is born with a unique set of natural abilities. And all of us can develop skills and styles to complement those natural abilities.

Question 4: Who is a Leader?

This question, on the surface, is the most straightforward question I have ever asked. I have already given examples.

People in specific roles are leaders, whether they have studied for the role, like a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or minister got elected to the position, like a county council member, mayor, senator, or President… or worked up the through the organization like a supervisor, manager, Vice President, or CEO.

You can ask anyone the question Who is a leader? And those are the kinds of answers they will give you.

They are right, of course. But they are only partially correct.

Leaders are not leaders because of a job title. 

Leaders are leaders because they lead.

This takes me back to my earlier question Are people born leaders? Yes, they are. Some have been hand-picked by our Creator or random genetics.

We have all been selected. Genetics has chosen us all.

We were all born to lead in our way.

We may not be the Chairman of the Board. We may not be the person on the stage. 

We may not lead with oratory or flair.

We may lead by compassion. 

We may lead by example.

We all can lead.

We all can be remarkable leaders. 

Leadership is not about position.

Leadership is not about power.

Leadership is about your potential.

You are a leader. Claim and believe this to be true, for it is. Stake your claim and affect the world around you. 

Your leadership opportunities are endless. The rewards are boundless.

My answers to four questions lead to a question for you:

Where will you lead?