A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent. – General Douglas MacArthur, American five-star general
What is leadership? Is it being the one to write the paycheck? Is it being the line leader in elementary school? Is it being the first to finish in a race?
Leaders are people who inspire other people to be great. They are people who change lives. Out of the world of frontrunners, there will be good and bad; whether you become Margaret Thatcher or Reynard Heydrich is a result of your choices and integrity, but a leader is a leader nonetheless.
Source: "Bad Boss vs. Good Leader"
I have often heard the term “natural born leader” thrown around when talking about charismatic extroverts. Louder, bolder personalities are often associated with being the “one-in-charge”. They are the ones to call situations or raise their hand first. However, no matter how naturally magnetic someone can be, if they are without virtue and diligence, followers will lose respect for them quickly.
And I am here to tell you that leaders can be found. Everyone has the ability to lead, despite what reservations you have for yourself. In these past few years, I have heard a lot about maximizing your potential, a practice that sounds good on paper but is too broad to really apply. Learning how to stand out can be like that as well. It is a fragile process because you must trust yourself yet make others the priority. Regardless, with patience and dedication, anyone can become someone that others look up to.
First of all, a leader must lead by example. Look to your own actions and begin making the right choices--if you are telling your younger sibling to get their homework done, shouldn’t you get started on that lab report as well? Being hypocritical is extremely detrimental to a productive leader-follower relationship. In a leadership seminar I attended recently, Megan Sirjane-Samples, a young, successful political figure in Florida, claimed, “Perception is reality.” What you see is what you get. If people notice you making good decisions and presenting yourself in a professional way, they will believe you are a figure to be respected. On the other hand, if you choose to be irresponsible, even if it is “out of office”, then your image is ruined. Once you commit yourself to a position of respect, it is vital that you uphold the standards of your position, as well as meet the same expectations that you set for others.
After establishing a sense of personal integrity, it is important that you learn goal-setting. Know what you want to achieve, how to achieve it, and why. Strong companies or organizations will always have a solid mission statement. And, regardless of any seemingly-outlandish impracticalities, don’t be afraid to fail. I have met politicians in high offices who claimed their reason for running was, “Why not?” There is always going to be risk. Any goal comes with trials, difficulties, pitfalls; if you pursue your goal with a strong mind, though, people will support you. If things don’t turn out your way, remember dignity in loss. “The difference between winners and losers is how they handle losing,” Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter once wrote in the Harvard Business Review. Don’t be a sore loser. Instead, set a new goal, and pursue it with renewed fervor.
Next, understand the people you are leading. Your community, your audience, your friends, your teachers. If you cannot listen to them, you cannot speak for them. Addressing people as a large body can be effective, but interaction on the individual level is what will make or break your public figure. Meeting people only takes a smile and a name. When you converse with others, always remember that we have two ears but one mouth; we must listen twice as much as we speak; learning stories of tangled families, abusive friends, and dark backgrounds will be difficult, but acknowledging a struggle is the first step to a solution. In order to be a Chief Financial Officer of a wealthy company, you must first comprehend the grit of poverty. In response to compassion, people will grant you respect. I wish I knew this a long time ago, but making friends is the best thing you can do for yourself. Perhaps you have heard the saying, “Friends are like elevators.” They either take you up or down, to success or to failure. So make a decision, make a friend.
With a bit of newfound insight, place yourself in this cliche situation: there is someone eating lunch by themselves. They sit with shoulders hunched, a dark, aloof expression on their face, looking impossibly isolated. Others pass by without more than a dismissive glance. The stranger is both intimidating and forgettable at the same time. What do you do?
It’s simple: do something. Anything, big or small, that will spur positivity. Make a change, and you will be a leader. Take initiative and invite them over to have lunch with you. Give a smile and spare a moment to talk. Buy a snack, offer it as a sign of goodwill. There are countless ways to approach enigmatic circumstances, and different leadership styles will all have varying answers.
There are so many specific strategies, exercises, mock situations, and such that I could get into, but I believe the point is clear. Personality may be born, but leadership is learned, trained, and built. There is no such thing as a “natural born leader”. Becoming someone greater than yourself will take time and dedication, but it is one of the most rewarding experiences that you can go through. So I encourage you to go for student body president, drum major of the band, or captain of the track team.
Becoming a leader doesn’t mean you’re above someone. It doesn’t mean you’re the loudest in the room. It doesn’t mean you are more important than the person next to you. It means you believed, you committed, and you took action. It means you built yourself, only to serve others.
I would like to acknowledge my experiences at the SCHS Band Officer Candidate School and American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program for teaching me valuable lessons in leadership, of which I could not have written this without.
Ling is an editor for The Millennial Times.