Leadership is not a title. You can never be appointed a leader, whatever your business card may say. Leadership has to be earned. Certain individuals have the ability to impact the lives of others with their action, insights and words. The late Steve Jobs said it best — ‘Leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.’
People like Gandhi who led a non-violence movement and drove the British Colonizers out of India or Dr. King, who inspired an entire generation of African Americans to march for their civil rights, did not hold any specific leadership title or government position. Their drive and passion for a cause bigger than themselves inspired others to follow them.
I believe that a leader possesses four innate characteristics. While some people are born with these traits, others take the time to learn and apply them.
1 – Leaders Take Ownership
Most people settle comfortably into the lives and roles into which they are born. They live mediocre, mundane lives and never get to realise their potential. Then there are those who stand out for challenging the status quo, for seeking to better themselves and the environment in which they are. The ones who refused to accept the cards they are dealt with and seek to change the game. Real leaders take ownership for their lives. They do not let others define their path or allow circumstances to prevent them from taking the next steps in their lives.
Leaders also take ownership of the people and the environment that they step into. But that doesn’t mean leaders do everything themselves. Good leaders have mastered the art of delegation. A common mistake many leaders make is to relegate instead of delegate. When you relegate, you abandon your responsibility. When you delegate, your help shape the outcome, though someone else implements the actual task. You are still accountable for the result. Ownership is a driving force of accountability. Hence, it is crucial to remember that the delegation is of tasks, and not the responsibility.
2 – Leaders Empower
We, as a human race, have an innate desire to belong. To belong to a community, a class, a culture. History shows us that this drive to belong often manifests itself as a yearning to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Thus, when a leader comes along showing us a path to being better not just as individuals but also as a part of something greater as a group, they raise in others a sense of self-belief. This self-belief is, in essence, true empowerment. Self-belief helps create that bridge from where we are to where we could be and should be. A great leader knows how to raise others up and empower them to believe in themselves.
A leader is not measured by how much they have themselves advanced but rather by how well they have advanced the lives of others. Most often than not, failure is simply a result of lack of self-belief. A leader helps create that belief by challenging the standards people are used to and shaking them out of their comfort zone.
3 – Leaders Are Purpose-Driven
A leader is defined by a purpose that is bigger than themselves. When that purpose serves a greater good, it becomes the platform for great leadership. Gandhi summed up his philosophy of life with the words — ‘My Life is my Message’. That one statement speaks volumes about how he chose to live his life and share his message of non-violence, compassion, and truth with the world.
When you have a purpose that goes beyond you, people will see it and identify with it. Being purpose driven defines the nobility of one’s character. It inspires others. At its core, your leadership purpose springs from your identity, the essence of who you are.
Purpose is the difference between a salesman and a leader, and in the end, the leader is the one that makes the impact on the world.
4 – Leaders Care
The earmark of a great leader is their care and concern for their people. Displaying compassion towards others is not about a PR photo-op but an inherent characteristic that others can feel and hear when they are with you. It lives in the warmth and timbre of your voice. It shows in every action you take.
Caring leaders take a genuine interest in others. They strive to better know the people working with them. This is not just to make token enquiries from time to time but because they really want to know their people and encourage them to be the best they can be. When care is genuine, it is interwoven in everything that you do.
As history has shown, dictators, warlords, and conquerors such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan may have led massive armies, but upon their death, no one remembers their life’s message. Instead, they are only remembered by the lands they conquered.
On the other hand, historical leaders such as Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela were defined by the care they showed for their people. Their legacies have impacted the belief systems through which we operate and govern our daily lives, even today. To me, this meaningful legacy, rooted in compassion, is what makes a great leader.