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Why Real Leaders Don't Pay Attention to Phony Leadership 'Experts' People who do their work as well as they can don't worry about who is the leader and who is the follower.

By Steve Tobak Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


I was just reading an article by a self-proclaimed leadership expert about how to tell if you're a leader and don't know it. What a load of nonsense. Her list was clearly designed to appeal to the masses. How transparent can you get?

Near as I can tell, this woman has never actually managed, run or led anything or anyone in her life. She makes a living blowing smoke up people's behinds that fill their heads with inspirational feel-good fluff. But she is very big on Twitter.

Unfortunately, she's a typical perpetrator of a popular fad that has millions chasing a utopian dream that simply doesn't exist.

Let me be straight with you, since apparently nobody else will. For the vast majority of you, trying desperately to feel like a leader is no different than getting high on a drug. Maybe it feels good for a few minutes, and then you're back to real life again.

Related: What No One Tells You About Seeking A Mentor for Your Startup

Here's the thing. Leadership is not a job. It's not a title. It's not even very descriptive. It's simply a desired skill-set for certain job functions. If authority or influence over others is not in your job description, then as far as the business world is concerned, you're an employee. No more, no less.

Said another way, if your work does not include a clear line of responsibility for employees, vendors, partners, products or programs, you're not a leader. Even if it does, that does not make you a good leader. As with any skill-set, some are very good at it, some are terrible and the majority are so-so.

Some make a distinction about servant leaders, but that's a distinction without a difference. In fact, even executive and business leader serves others. They directly or indirectly serve bosses, boards of directors and any number of stakeholders.

There are, of course, religious, political and institutional leaders without clear lines of authority, but I'm talking about business. If you're not involved in a real company with real employees, products and customers, as far as I'm concerned, you can call yourself anything you like.

Related: 7 Ways to Excel at Asking for Advice From Experts

Let me explain something about real leaders who run companies, organizations, teams, product lines and programs. I've spent my entire adult life working in and around the corporate world. We're talking decades, mind you. And yet, in all that time, I have never met an executive who actually thought of himself as a leader.

Not one.

They all thought of themselves in terms of their jobs -- their ability to do what they're paid to do on behalf of their stakeholders. To that extent, leadership skills were no different than any other capability needed to do their jobs effectively. No different than being smart, hard working or tenacious. No different than having market or functional expertise.

Let me explain why it's so important for you to get all this leadership nonsense out of your head. First of all, you're wasting your precious time. You only get one shot at life. And while you're reading, posting, tweeting and attending seminars about this leadership nonsense, life is passing you by.

Not only is life passing you by, so are opportunities. There is a cost associated with opportunities you miss out on while you're otherwise engaged in mindless distraction, chasing your tail or doing whatever it is that so many of you do when you should be doing what really matters.

In case you're wondering what it is that matters, it's simple, really. Get out in the world and work. Gain some exposure. Meet people. Find what you love or at least enjoy doing, hopefully something that's in demand and in short supply. Work your tail off. Strive to be the best. Accomplish great things.

Rinse and repeat until the day you wake up, look back over your life's work and realize that what you did mattered. You made a real difference in the world. You'll feel good about it. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment. You'll be fulfilled, and you'll be happy.

Related: 4 Ways to Get Anyone -- Even Your Heroes -- to Be Your Mentor

But none of that will happen if you insist on wasting your life trying to feel good about yourself when you haven't really accomplished anything yet. The sad irony is, all those so-called leadership experts are in exactly the same boat you're in. I honestly don't know who to feel more sorry for, them or the fools who follow them.

For more on what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur and an exceptional leaders in today's highly competitive business world, get Steve's new book, Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur, and check out his blog at

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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