A couple of years ago I spent a lot of time thinking about the definition of a leader. There seemed to be so many different books and articles about what it means to be a leader and what leadership is that I was struggling to distill the information into what it meant for my own leadership journey. The more I read and reflected the more I realized defining someone as a leader has nothing to do with the leader and is defined by the followers. This led me to the following:
When someone does what you are doing (aka follows you), because you are the one doing it, then YOU are a leader.
The second part of my reflection on leadership led me to an analogy of life in a simple village and what it means to be a leader.
Imagine yourself in a small village. You and the rest of the villagers are happy as can be. There is plenty of food and water to go around and dangers are safely kept outside the village. No one sees the need to even explore what might be out there…except for you. You the explorer, you the risk taker, and maybe you the leader?
Why would you even consider leaving the blissful and wonderful sanctuary that is the village? Are you worried about something that the other villagers don’t see, like slowly dwindling food supplies? Do you just want a sense of adventure or is there something else that is driving you to beyond the status quo?
Good, now that you have all the answers to those questions…oh, wait you would like more time to figure out your why? Probably a good idea, answering your why is the most critical step in the journey on which you are about to embark.
Ok, next question, now that you know why you want to venture beyond the village the second big question is whether to go it alone (or at least attempt to go it alone since you never know who might be watching and follow you anyway) or do want others to join you on your journey? Maybe you should go it alone to start with and then have others join you at a certain time? Do you need a team to support you?
So, what did you decide? There is no wrong answer here. Sometimes you need a team and sometimes it is better to go exploring on your own.
Let’s say that you have decided that you need a couple of other villagers to join you on this journey. How are you going to communicate to them and get them to join you? It may be important to you, but is it important to them? What could you say to inspire those specific people you want to join you on your journey?
Is your team set now? No? Ok, then do a quick reflection on your message and approach. How can you adjust based on your recent experience with this person?
Now is your team set? Congratulations! Now you that you know why you are venturing outside the village, you have decided that you need other villagers to join you, communicated to those villagers, and they have decided to follow you. Sounds to me like you are a leader!
When you are seeking to venture towards a new horizon, there are three crucial starting points in being a leader.
- Finding Your Why – No matter how many leadership books or articles you read, they all come back to one central topic. As a leader you must have a clear understanding of why you are leading in the direction or action you are taking (or not taking). Why is it that you want to leave your current state, especially if it is secure and comfortable in your village?
- Identifying Your Target Team – This can be a tough one. Really thinking about who you want to join your journey usually takes time, thought, and reflection. There is no one magic team. Just like each leadership journey outside the village is unique, each team will require unique skills and abilities. Also, know that it is OK to go it alone. Sometimes you may need to make that journey before you want others to follow where you go.
- Inspiring Those Team Members to Join You – Inspiring others to join you is all about communication. Knowing the right thing to say requires knowing crucial information about the person to whom you are speaking. When you want others to join you, get to know them, find out what motivates them, and adjust your message accordingly.
Enjoy your journey beyond the village and become the great leader you were born to be!
Garth Reed is currently the Leadership Tri-Cities program Leadership Development Director. Garth’s contact information is firstname.lastname@example.org and (509) 713-0924.