Many motivational experts like to say that leaders are made, not born. I would argue the exact opposite – I believe we are all natural born leaders, but have been deprogrammed along the way. As children, we were natural leaders – always hungry and thirsty for knowledge, with an incredibly vivid imagination; we knew exactly what we wanted, were persistent and determined in getting what we wanted, and had the ability to motivate, inspire, and influence everyone around us. So why is this so difficult to do as adults? What happened?
As children, over time, we got used to hearing, “No”, “Don’t” and “Can’t”… “Don’t do this, don’t do that. You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” Many of our parents told us to keep quiet and not disturb the adults by asking silly questions. This pattern continued into high school with our teachers telling us what we could and couldn’t do, what was possible and when we could do it. Many of us were hit with the big one – institutionalised formal education known as college or university. Unfortunately, the traditional educational system doesn’t teach students how to become leaders; it teaches students how to become polite order-takers. Instead of learning to become creative, independent, self-reliant, and to think for themselves, most people learn how to obey and intelligently follow rules.
I know this sounds clichéd, but developing the “natural leader”, then, requires a process of ‘unlearning’, and removing the barriers to our potential we all lay down over time.
Seven steps to developing natural leadership:
1. Humility – leadership starts with humility, being humble. To be a successful leader, you must first be willing to serve others. Nobody wants to follow someone who is arrogant – when you are humble; you become genuinely interested in people. Listening is the number one leadership communication tool, and when people sense you are genuinely interested in them, and are actively listening to them, they will naturally be interested in you and listen to what you have to say.
2. SWOT yourself – SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) is a strategic management tool, but it can just effectively be used in your own professional development. Start by listing all your strengths including your accomplishments. Then write down all your weaknesses and what needs to be improved (make sure to include any doubts, anxieties, fears and worries that you may have). Then proceed by listing all the opportunities you see available to you for using your strengths. Finally, write down all the threats or obstacles that are currently blocking you or that you think you will encounter along the way to achieving your dreams. It’s a great tool for gaining some perspective about yourself.
3. Create big goals – if you want to be larger than life, you need a goal that’s larger than life. Small goals won’t serve you or anyone else. Write down your one biggest goal – personal or professional – the one that excites you the most. Remember, don’t be small and realistic; be bold and unrealistic!
4. Perseverance – somebody much cleverer than I once said, “The definition of success is going from failure to failure, with no loss of enthusiasm”.
5. Honour your word – every time you break your word, you lose power. Successful leaders keep their word and their promises. You only have one reputation in life. Your word is gold!
6. Get a mentor – find yourself a mentor, preferably someone who has already been successful as a leader or manager. Don’t be afraid to ask (people secretly love it), besides, you have nothing to lose. As well as mentors, take time to read autobiographies and the websites of people that you admire, this will give you insight into successful behaviours.
7. Be yourself – use your relationships with mentors and your research on great leaders as models or reference points to work from – but never copy or imitate them parrot-fashion. Everyone has vastly different leadership styles – leaders can be soft and determined (like noble Gandhi, or ex-peanut farmer Jimmy Carter), or loud and flamboyant (like Churchill or “The Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher). Everyone has a different style, so take the time to find yours.
By Tom Robinson