Who Makes A Great Leader?

Mother Teresa

If you don’t have the ability to influence others in a positive way, you will never be able to lead others. People have many misconceptions about leadership. When they hear that someone has an impressive title or an assigned leadership position, they assume that he or she is a leader. Sometimes that’s true. But titles don’t have much value when it comes to truly leading. True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated – it must be earned.

Great examples are Princess Diana and Mother Theresa – neither had any real authority, but both exercised an incredible amount of influence that outlived their individual lives. The only thing a title can buy is a little time – either to increase your level of influence with others or to erase it.

Here are five common misunderstandings about leadership:

  1. Smart people are natural Leaders: Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Knowledge is power.” Most people, believing that power is the essence of leadership, naturally assume that those who possess knowledge and intelligence are leaders. But that isn’t automatically true. IQ does not necessarily equate to leadership ability.
  2. Great managers are great Leaders: A widespread misunderstanding is that leadership and management are one and the same. Up until a few years ago, books that claimed to be on leadership were often really about management. The main difference between the two is that leadership is about influencing people to follow, while management focuses on maintaining systems and processes. Consequently, a great way to test whether a person can lead rather than manage is to ask him to create positive change.
  3. The first to go must be the leader: Another misconception is that anyone who is out in front of the crowd is a leader. But being first isn’t the same as leading. Example: Sir Edmund Hillary was the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, but he wasn’t the leader of the climb (John Hunt was). Sir Edmund was also one of the first to reach the South Pole. But again, he wasn’t the leader of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition; Sir Vivian Fuchs was. Leaders often go first and lead by example, but those who go first are not always good leaders – it takes more than that to be a good leader.
  4. Entrepreneurs make excellent leaders: Frequently, people assume that all salespeople and entrepreneurs are leaders. But that’s often not the case. Just because someone is buying what they are selling, does not make them leaders – people are not really following them. At best, salespeople and entrepreneurs may be able to persuade someone for the moment, but they hold no long-term real influence.
  5. The boss is the real leader: As mentioned earlier, the greatest misconception about leadership is that people think it is based on position, but it’s not. As Stanley Huffy once affirmed, “It is not the position that makes the leader, but the leader who makes the position.” Positional leadership doesn’t work with volunteer organizations. These leaders don’t have leverage – or influence – so they are ineffective. In volunteer organizations, such as churches, the only thing that works is leadership in its purest form – influence-based, servant leadership.

One of my favorite leadership proverbs is,

“He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.”

If you can’t influence others, they won’t follow you. And if they won’t follow, you’re not a leader. No matter what anybody else says, always remember that leadership is the ability to influence in a positive manner – nothing more, nothing less.

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