When organizations go through leadership training, often there is a disconnect with team members that don’t have direct reports. They rarely see themselves as a leader, yet often these very same people have a lot of responsibilities in their life.
In order to answer the question, “what does it mean to be a leader?”, we need to look at a few things that leadership is not.
Leadership Is Not About Your Position
The most common mistake that people make is assuming that a person in a certain position is a leader. Recently, at a business meeting, we were discussing some leadership material and one person said, “I’m having trouble connecting because I’m not a leader.” It’s true this person didn’t have a leadership position, but they failed to see how much influence they had over their peers.
A position doesn’t make you a leader. If your mind immediately goes to some negative examples of positional leadership, I’ll give you that. Yes, some people are in a position that gives them authority. John Maxwell calls positional leadership the lowest level of leadership. People follow you because they have to. This is not what it means to be a leader. Just because you have a leadership position does not mean you are a leader.
I believe that everyone has leadership ability and that the most impactful leadership happens in the family. However, simply becoming a Dad doesn’t mean you are a leader. Yes, being a parent puts you in authority but it doesn’t make you a leader. A leader takes responsibility for the people that follow them.
Leadership Is Not About Your Personality
In work settings and small groups across the country personality profiles and behavior assessments are popular. It’s a fun way to stereotype each other in a positive environment. I think this is dangerous for Christians to do these tests but they do reveal tendencies in our behavior and we can use these test to predict how we might behave in the future. In each one of these tests, there is often a dominant or aggressive personality type. The 8’s on the enneagram, the Drivers, in the DISC profile, the Lion, the Choleric, the list goes on and on. We all know these people, the ones that might be too direct in their communications and often love to get stuff done. Often people with this profile are assumed to be natural-born leaders. There are many great leaders with this profile, but this type of personality doesn’t receive an advantage when it comes to leadership. Leadership is about serving others. Often people with this personality have a different set of issues. They don’t have a problem “taking charge” but rather, they often have to learn to connect with people.
Whether you have an aggressive or passive personality doesn’t determine your leadership quality. We all have strengths and weaknesses and it’s what we do to work with those that makes the difference. The Bible lays out characteristics of a leader pretty well for all to follow. When you research great leaders, the academics all list out leadership qualities like vision and honesty. These characteristics are also Biblical. Nowhere in the Bible nor in any of the research does it say that a leader needs to be charismatic or have a certain personality profile.
So, What Does It Mean To Be A Leader?
Leadership Is Responsibility For Your Influence
Real leadership is understanding, accepting, and stewarding the responsibility you have for the influence you wield. I disagree partly with John Maxwell’s, “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” Instagram and TikTok influencers, influence (it’s in the name) users of those apps, supposed news organizations influence its readers, and yet there are very, very few leaders on those platforms. No, influence doesn’t make anyone a leader, it’s only one requirement for leadership. The other requirement is responsibility.
Whether it’s our family or our peers all of us wield some level of influence. Ultimately, it’s how we wield that influence that makes us leaders. We’re all leaders on some level. The first person we have to lead well is our self. Once we take ownership over that, we can begin to become better leaders in our other relationships. The first step to becoming a great leader is first accepting the responsibility for our influence.