Are great leaders born or made?
Take a minute to consider the leaders who have touched your life. Perhaps at a former or current workplace, a non-profit you care about, or a community organization?
Think of people you trust and respect.
Who are they? What do you know about them? Do you know their story, how they came to be the leaders they are today? How they came to earn your respect?
If you do know their story, chances are they’ve had their share of adversity and have had to make important choices along the way. They have persevered and become successful—in the broadest sense of the word—because of a strong belief in what they were doing. And despite of what others may have seen as personal obstacles or shortcomings.
Great leaders have the ability to see what is possible, often when others don’t. They acknowledge and are able to utilize their individual traits, abilities, skills and interests to make progress toward a vision of what they believe can and should be.
Then they make one first simple step. They do something, small. They choose to act, to set things in motion. Not out of ease or convenience, but out of a sense of purpose. Or need.
Whether clearly defined or subtly innate, there is a direct connection between this urge to act and their personal and deeply held values and convictions. They are aware that there are some things in life that give them energy, and others that consume it. They are aware that it costs them more energy to hold back than to be deliberate and to act.
They choose to spend this energy wisely, in a way that is purposeful and beneficial to themselves and others, that provides life and joy instead of having to be contained and carefully managed. Blaming others for injustice, problems and obstacles and contributing to maintaining a status quo is simply not an option. It costs too much.
Great leadership is rarely based solely on a rational decision. It starts with a simple step and builds momentum and strength. It results in meaningful change. Not because of the results in and by themselves, but because the achievements are inherently linked to their origins and rationale.
Great leadership can only be as long as there is self-awareness and self-development.
It begins with acquiring an understanding of your values, convictions and sense of purpose. It includes an understanding of where you have been, in order for you to be deliberate about the direction you are heading. It requires courage and determination that can only be derived from the realization that you can lead and achieve because of who you are, here and now, and an appreciation and acknowledgement of the qualities and strengths that you already inhabit. Not what you aspire to be based on the perception of others.
Embrace who you are, your strengths and values. Comparing yourself to others may be an interesting exercise, but will ultimately only be a distraction. Be proud of who you are, your background, your story and qualities. Yet be deliberate in how you use, develop and direct them.
You already have everything you need to be a great leader. Yet you have to understand and appreciate what is important to you. And decide to make the first step.
Because great leaders are born, every day. And then they are made, again and again.