When we hear the term “leader,” our minds instantly turn to our managers, CEOs, executives and other company higher ups. But they’re not the only leaders in our lives. What about our mothers/fathers, guardians, grandparents … friends?
The concept of “leadership” usually indicates someone with power and control over another person, and it’s often attached to the workplace. But is it always the case that the person in charge is a leader?
When I think of a leader, I think of someone who is approachable, accepting and supportive. Yet I’m surely not the only one who has found herself having to answer to a difficult line manager about why I haven’t been able to complete a task, even when failure is completely out of my control.
I’m sure you’ve been here: Head on the desk, mind running over and over about how you’re going to explain the mishap, what you’re going to say, what you’re going to do, DAYS before you even have to go for that dreaded “I haven’t been able to complete that” meeting.
I certainly have had managers like that in my career, people I dreaded speaking to and avoided at all costs. Worse, those people seem skilled at making employees feel 2-foot-tall, despite you working to the best of your ability. And they may refuse to train or mentor you to do better because (or so you feel) you just aren’t worth it.
For me, this type of manager should not automatically be called a leader. Instead, I believe, leadership is found in the heart of a person.
We all have the potential to be leaders, whether we are “built” for it or not. And though leadership is strongly associated with success, real leaders — like real people — don’t always succeed. Better yet, they know how to recover from failure and help their employees do the same.
In my opinion, it is okay to not be a leader, whether that is because it doesn’t suit you or you prefer to let someone else take charge (I’m sure it’s happened to the best of us when there’s been a nasty and confusing case of “too many chefs in the kitchen.”)
But we should recognize that leadership isn’t always found in management, and if you happen to be in a situation like one I described above, you may need to look outside the workplace for someone who can help you grow as a person and professional.
Sometimes leaders are hidden in your friends, family, and maybe even in you (yes, you, even if you’re still at the bottom of the job hierarchy). Think about that one friend in the group who always pulls you through the disastrous situation of missing the last bus, the person who always seems to have a master plan hidden in her pocket. Those might be the secret leaders in your world.
While leaders often reach the point of management in companies, take a moment to look for the “little leaders” all around you, waiting in the wings — whether that’s you, a colleague or a friend.
They haven’t earned their title — yet — but one day they might. They might not be experienced enough — yet — but one day they will be. And by partnering with and “following” these other leaders now, you can grow in your personal and professional life.
And when that true “leader” is your boss, you’ll be much happier for it.