Whether or not we like it, leaders are born, not made. Although our culture would like to believe that there is a kernel of leadership in everyone, I’m just not convinced.
While there might be a bit of leader deep inside everyone, that does not make them a leader. People become leaders when they step forward and when they are accepted as leader by their followers. So let’s break this process down.
In order to step forward, an individual needs to have the desire and drive to lead. Research suggests that these factors are personality traits, long-lived and durable. In order to be accepted by followers, a prospective leader needs to be perceived as a leader by the followers. Traits such as intelligence, physical attractiveness and extraversion are traits that followers look for in a leader. You haven’t seen a fat President of the United States in the past 50 years (Bill Clinton was as close as it gets). Nope. U.S. presidents tend to be tall, pleasantly attractive, thin men. Not movie stars, but pretty damned good-looking. Generally we want our leaders to be smarter than ourselves. (George W. Bush appears to be an exception to this rule).
As much as we would like to believe that everyone can be a leader, the fact of the matter is that, fair or not, followers want a certain type of leader. And like it or not, not all of us have the intelligence, drive or desire to lead.
But all is not lost. We need followers as well as leaders. What we all do have, however, is the ability to influence, to use acquired power to achieve organizational goals and objectives. Perhaps our desire for “small l leaders” that is, leaders who don’t lead from formal positions of power, but those who lead from influence and ability within a team, is driven by our need for more effective, engaged people, not by our need of leaders.
We need to stop believing that everyone can lead. But, everyone can be effective. To quote Sami Jo Small, Women’s Hockey Olympic Gold Medalist, “It’s not the role you play, it’s how you play the role”.