What makes a leader? Is it the years of experience? Is it the number of people one manages? Is it the designation? Through the years, I have come to realise that true leadership emerges from many factors, including skills, results and strength in the face of adversity, all combined with an ability to work with and get the best out of people and also ensuring that the right connect and touch with the team is strengthened time to time. This essentially means that given the right circumstances, a leader can be an individual at any level in the organisation.
Today, we need to look beyond the traditional definition of a leader as someone with a position in charge of a group of people in an organisation. That is something which only a few of us can achieve – after all, there can only be one CEO in a company! What is important is that each one of us finds our area of strength – strength that does not come from our position in an organisation, but from a credible and healthy influence that is built on relationships. In a modern organisation, it is essential for each individual to realise that while each one is a leader in his or her circle of influence, leadership is not about the power one wields on others, but rather it is about inspiring others and helping others and being part of a high impact team that shows results and demonstrates positive outcomes.
In ‘We Are All Leaders: Leadership is Not a Position, It’s a Mindset’, Fredrik Arnander, a Scandinavian entrepreneur and business guru puts it concisely when he says that the new face of leadership is consensual and non-hierarchical. Leadership in a modern organisation is not just for the corner office executives. This is a time of rapid technological change and economic uncertainty and we all need to step up and develop the mind of a leader. Successful organisations are those that empower employees at all levels to take an active role in leading themselves and their organisations to success.
Becoming a leader is a state of mind. Many people mistakenly believe that it is necessary for people to have an innate quality of leadership to be a leader. It may be true that there are some who are naturally good at leading, who easily take charge. But at the same time, there are also individuals in whom leadership quality comes to the fore in certain situations that fit their strengths and are aligned with their passions. This is where the role of mentoring in today’s organisation comes into play, with mentors sharing their wisdom and providing insight and guidance to an individual to find his or her strengths and the right place to display it. This advice is indispensable when people move up in their career, to a different role or a senior leadership role, or where there is a need to quickly assimilate the different skills required to perform effectively and meet strategic and operational challenges in a new role.
Mentoring helps in various aspects such as improved leadership skills and leadership-capacity building and an increased job satisfaction. It reduces the feeling of isolation and aids in professional development of the individual. It is important to realise that development is not a one-time act, but a continuous activity to meet the dynamic nature of roles in an organisation. Mentors can play a vital role in an aspiring or potential leader finding the ‘right’ situation to become a leader The argument against everyone being a leader is – who will then follow, how will an organisation function? Once again we need to move away from the traditional definition of leadership. If leadership is finding our area of strength to positively impact the organisation, then we are all leaders and all followers. A leader at a senior position may have greater responsibility, but each of us are leading and influencing in our own areas of strength.
A WW Kellogg Foundation report from 2001 talks about the Collaborative Leadership Paradigm. It describes how an organisation needs to recognise the leadership potential within each person to contribute to the betterment of the organisation. Leaders are those who work with an inclusive approach to achieve constructive benefits for the whole organisation. Peter Senge, founder of the Society for Organisational Learning, puts it succinctly when he says – Leadership has to do with how people are. You don’t teach people a different way of being, you create conditions so they can discover where their natural leadership comes from.
Organisations today have to face and overcome a complexity of issues in a rapidly changing business environment, and it is only by adapting and evolving to this new model of leadership will they be able to succeed and grow. So let’s all begin by recognising the leader in each one of us!