This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
Do you consider yourself a follower? Have you always wanted to become a leader? What, exactly, distinguishes the two?
Leadership comes with additional responsibility, but also additional opportunities, more respect, and more control over your life. While some people are content to avoid leadership, serving as cogs in bigger machines, the rest of us aspire to take charge of our own destinies. But if you’re used to living your life and spending your career as a follower, is it even possible to become a leader?
Related: Are You a Leader or a Follower?
Why leadership Is attainable.
It’s been said that leaders are born, not made, but there’s evidence to the contrary. To determine why leaders can be made, and aren’t just “naturally” born, let’s take a look at what it takes to be a successful leader:
- Confidence. Confidence comes naturally to some, but for everyone else, it’s definitely a “fake it ‘til you make it” approach. Leaders only need to appear confident -- it doesn’t matter what they feel on the inside -- so this is a skill that can be attained.
- Knowledge. There’s no limit to how much knowledge a person can gain, so there’s no attainability limit here.
- Ability. Abilities can be improved through practice. If you aren’t inherently “good” in your niche, you can work to become better.
- Decisiveness. Decisiveness is another skill inherent to some, but capable of being acquired by others. Making firm decisions and striving for resolve is something that can be practiced and improved.
- Respect. You should demonstrate respect to everyone, regardless of whether you’re a leader or a follower. If you truly can’t demonstrate this quality, you don’t have the right to be a leader.
- Commitment. If you’re interested in becoming a leader, you’re already committed to your goals and ideals in some way.
- Communication. Though some people make for naturally better communicators, you can sharpen your communicative abilities through practice.
Related: 12 Habits of Exceptional Leaders
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but these are fundamentals that any leader should have. As you’ve noticed, all of them are directly obtainable, or at least imitable, making it possible for anyone to become a leader with the right motivation.
We know leadership is attainable, so here are the four methods you can use to attain it:
- Experience. The first method simply comes with the territory. The more time you spend engaging in some specific industry, niche, or role, the better you’ll get to know it. You’ll learn the ins and outs of the trade, especially if you dabble in other areas, and eventually you’ll develop the knowledge, communicative abilities, and confidence it takes to be successful as a leader in this niche. This first path to leadership is a natural one, and it’s all about gaining mastery over a specific area. Keep working hard and improving yourself, and eventually, you’ll be the right fit for the job.
- Incremental growth. You don’t have to go from being a follower to a leader overnight—in fact, there are many professional positions that serve as intermediary roles between the two. Managers are a perfect example; they aren’t making any drastic decisions or serving as visionaries for the organization, but they are delegating, communicating, and organizing their own teams. Start seeking these intermediary “leadership” roles, inching your way up the ladder, until you start feeling more comfortable in your leadership abilities. They will develop in time.
- Sheer will. Of course, it’s also possible to develop your abilities as a leader through sheer force of will, strange as it may sound. If you spend some time introspecting and evaluating what it takes to be a leader in your industry, you can make a list of all the abilities, skills, or points of knowledge you need to acquire, and slowly work to acquire them. This method takes significant time, energy, and will, but it can lead you in the right direction for development.
- Necessity. Sometimes, the best way to learn how to swim is to be thrown into the water. As leadership abilities reliably develop with experience, in some cases the best thing to do is to adopt a leadership role—such as starting your own business—regardless of how “ready” you are. You’ll sink or swim by necessity, and the pressure of the situation will help you develop your necessary skills faster. It’s a scarier method to become a leader, but a faster one.
Related: 10 Things Real Leaders Do
These methods aren’t the only ones you can use to spark your evolution into a leader, but they are some of the most reliable. Choose a path, drawing inspiration from others along the way if you hit obstacles or find yourself wanting something different from your journey. As long as you remain committed, and aren’t afraid of challenging or changing yourself, there’s nothing that can stop you from becoming a great leader.