How do you know if you have leadership potential? Maybe you’re still in school and are starting to think about a career. Or perhaps you have a little work experience and are dreaming of the future. Or maybe you’ve been promoted to a new level of leadership, and you’re feeling the weight of all the new responsibility and expectations, and you’re wondering if you’ll rise to the occasion. Do leaders dress in a particular way? Does leadership require a certain degree? Are you a leader?? Well, here’s a secret of leadership: everyone can influence someone. This is really good news. Sure, different people have different leadership capacity, but every single person has leadership potential because everyone can influence someone. You have the potential to make a difference—even if it’s only in the life of one other person. But if you’re committed to personal growth, your capacity will expand, and your impact might be far more significant than you could possibly imagine. Understanding what leadership is is the first step in growing your capacity.
What is leadership?
Leadership is using your influence to move someone from where they are to somewhere better.
Let’s break that definition down…
1. Leadership is Using Your Influence
In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, author and leadership expert, John C. Maxwell wrote, “Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less…True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned.” I love that! This means a stay-at-home mom can have more leadership impact than a highly paid CEO if they leverage their influence correctly.
Who had the most influence on the direction of your life? For most people, it wasn’t a supervisor or executive who had the most influence. It was a parent, author, mentor, pastor, or coach. It was a specific person who left an indelible mark. Someone who earned the right to speak into your life and alter your path. For me, it was a small group of highly influential people.
The principle of influence also means you don’t have to wait to receive the right position or job description to start leading. If your ideas, attitude, language, vision, or values begin influencing those around you (including your colleagues, your boss, or those outside of your department or team) or the culture around you, you are already leading! The best place to start in developing your leadership potential is with influence.
- Who do you influence today?
- Who could you influence one day?
- Who have you built relationships with based on trust and respect?
- Who listens to you, trusts you, and finds you credible?
- Who are the 3 people who have most influenced you?
- What was the specific impact of their influence?
- Have you thanked them for their leadership in your life?
2. To Move Someone
Leadership must result in movement, in action. Your influence must inspire change—perhaps a new way of looking at the world, a new attitude, a new direction, a new behavior, a next step. If all you’re getting are head nods, people might be in agreement with you, they might even think you’re cool or impressive, but listen to me—they are not yet following you. That’s the difference. If you’re not helping someone move, change, or grow even if you have the title of leader you’re not leading them. Do you see? The metric for leadership has nothing to do with what’s on your business card. It is the percentage of followership—what you are influencing the people you are leading to do.
Let’s talk about the “someone” in this statement. Leadership is using your influence to move someone. Engineers and mechanics may understand how to move objects, but leaders must understand how to move people. As passionate as you are about your company, your calling, or your career, leadership has always been and will always be a people business. And people take time. It takes time to earn trust. It takes time to gain influence. It takes time to understand where people are at currently. And it takes sooooo much time (so much stinking time!) for people to move and change and grow. BUT (and this is a big but), they say if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go slow…and take people with you! That’s leadership.
And besides, if you’re a leader today, how long did it take you to get where you are today? Did it happen overnight? I’m guessing people poured into you for years before seeing any significant change or progress. You had parents and teachers and mentors who took pity on you and helped you before you were as amazing as you are now, right?? As much as I love my kids, it’s taken them years to learn and grow and mature. That’s normal. That’s actually healthy. It’s no different with the people you’ve been entrusted to lead.
- Do you agree that as a leader, you are in a people business? Why/why not?
- Who are 6 specific people you might be able to help move, change or grow?
- On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your influence with them today?
- What would movement, change, or growth look like in their life?
- How quickly do you expect them to move under your leadership? Do you think you’re being realistic?
- Who or what has had the most significant impact on moving, changing, or growing you?
- How long (in years) has it taken you to get where you are today? (Hint, take your current age plus your parents’ age if they were helpful to you. That’s a good starting point.)
3. From Where They Are to Somewhere Better
Leadership is never cookie-cutter, it’s as varied as the number of people you are entrusted to lead. Every person is somewhere unique. Like a dot on a map, everyone you lead is somewhere today. They are not floating in some theoretical ether. And they may not be where you want them to be (or where they need to be for their own success), but they are where they are for very logical reasons. If they’re in a good place with their emotional, physical, relational, and financial health, if they’re productive and helpful, that is most likely the result of their childhood, life experience, and choices. If they are melting down, burning out, struggling with addiction, or fighting you at every turn, that also is likely a result of their childhood, life experience, and choices, too.
The sooner you accept the reality of where they are today, the sooner you can lead them somewhere better (AND the sooner you can be helpful to them instead of just frustrated with them all the time).
Effective leadership doesn’t always result in using your influence to move someone from where they are to somewhere better. Effective leadership is seen in every evil leader as well as every good leader. Were Hilter, Stalin, and Mao Zedong effective leaders? Certainly. But were they good leaders?? Good leaders, working for the good of all people, use any influence they have to move people from where they are to somewhere better.
The world is in desperate need of good leadership. Good leadership is needed just as much in the marketplace as in the home. World-class leaders are vital to the success of for-profit, nonprofit, public, and private organizations, institutions, and businesses. Just think of what might change in our communities and families if we realized our full leadership potential! So do you have leadership potential? Yes. Can you grow your capacity in leadership? The good news is yes, you can. Are you ready to start the journey? Great!
Everyone can influence someone.
- Of the 6 people you listed above, where would you say they are at today (regarding their ability, capacity, character, and results)? Be brutally honest.
- How has it been frustrating for you to realize where the people you’re supposed to be leading are at today? How have you dealt with that frustration?
- Thinking of each person as an individual, what next steps would you like them to take in the next 4-6 weeks? And 3-6 months?
- For the people you are leading, how would you want them to grow (emotionally, physically, relationally, financially, or in some other way)?
- What is one thing you could help the people you are leading learn in the coming year?
- What is one resource that has been helpful to you in your movement, change, or growth?