I used to think about leaders as people who had been born with an incredible amount of good luck and charisma. Leadership to me seemed to be a lottery where only some fortunate ones were able to reach their dreams, become extremely successful and popular, and navigate through life effortlessly. I guess I had adopted the idea that leaders are born, not made. One of the most determining factors that has changed my perspective on leadership is not academic knowledge but rather personal experience.
As I work in different educational settings, I have always felt attracted to work with strong, charismatic people who know who they are, who display and live by strong values, and who consistently demonstrate that they care about who I am as a person in addition to my abilities as a professional. The people that have changed my perspective on leadership have always been those who get to know me and the ones who have taken the time to invest in me by taking the risk of allowing a work environment where failure is a learning experience and a place to grow and praise for work well done is abundant.
Since I have noticed that there is a specific type of person I am always willing to work for, come on board and share visions with, I have come to the conclusion that a leader has the following attributes:
1) Honesty: It doesn't matter how hard a conversation has to be in order to promote growth and positive change. When it comes to establishing a parallel healthy relationship with a leader, I need to know that a person has my best interest in mind and a higher goal and purpose for the well being of the community. As Secretary of State Collin Powell stated in his video about leadership at Colgate University, "it is ok to hurt people's feelings". I don't mind hurt feelings when the greater good is at stake and I know that a leader has my best interest in mind.
2) Positive & Enthusiastic Attitude: A person with a great attitude and a positive outlook on life is always easy to work with and easy to listen to. It doesn't matter if the task at hand is challenging, a "let's do it" kind of person is always an inspiration for others to follow.
3) Ability to connect: A person who encourages the heart encourages the way (Posner & Kouzes, The Leadership Change, 2012), and a leader who truly cares about their people earn respect from others and lead by relationships, not by commands.
4) Ability to Articulate and Share a Clear Vision and Mission: In order to enlist others to accomplish a common goal, a leader needs to be able to communicate and influence others to work in the same direction with passion and a sense of community rather than individual gain.
5) A Strong Work Ethic and Commitment to Personal and Community Values: I once read that a leader needs to watch his/her reputation as the most precious asset, which is what I compare to what Posner and Kouzes call "Model the Way" (Posner & Kouzes, The Leadership Change, 2012). A person that leads by example rather than leading by title always commands respect and has the ability to influence others.
I have come to the conclusion that everyone can be a leader. Leadership is rather a set of acquired life skills rather that a natural predisposition obtained at birth.
Photo Credit Ducks Castillo 2014