Everybody Is a Leader

Not everybody can become Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther King Jr., but let us learn to lead and influence others as best as we can. When all of us lead in a small way, it will make a major difference to society.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

People often doubt who the real leaders are. They have several queries in their minds about leadership. Some leadership gurus say everyone is a leader, and that sounds strange to others. Let’s look at who a leader is, and how to spot leadership potential and groom them to be future leaders.

Who Is a Leader?

Everybody is a leader, whether you are a CEO, a middle manager, a junior manager, a factory worker, a janitor, an entrepreneur, or a single parent. The one who leads from the front is a leader. The one who sets an example is a leader. The one who walks the talk is a leader. The one who takes responsibility is a leader. The one who influences others is a leader. The one who makes a difference to others is a leader. As long as people follow the rules of leadership, they are leaders. Everybody can be a leader, but all cannot be effective leaders, as effective leaders have in them extra ingredients that not every leader possesses. It is also true that everybody is a leader regardless of their hierarchical position, from a pauper to a prince and from a peon to a principal, provided they deliver their best, unmindful of their backgrounds.

Educators as Leaders

Educators are also leaders as they influence students deeply and shape them into good citizens. Students spend most of their time in educational institutions. When educators teach students, they are not sure what is being absorbed or assimilated by them. They have to be careful about what they say and impart to students. They have to be clear in their statements as only then will they have an impact on students. When educators teach with passion, students admire and follow them. Students can go to any extent to support their educators. Hence, educators also become leaders when they walk their talk through the dissemination of knowledge, abilities, and skills.

Everyone Has Leadership Potential

There is leadership potential in every individual. People mostly remain in their comfort zones, and as a result, their leadership potential lies hidden. When we encourage people, their real leadership potential surfaces. For some people, the real leadership potential is released only when they are provoked. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi was a practicing lawyer in South Africa. While traveling in a first-class compartment, he was thrown out because of racial discrimination. He then realized the extent of the ill-treatment meted out to Indians, and championed for their rights through peaceful means. It is obvious that the leadership potential had been lying hidden in Mahatma Gandhi. However, it surfaced only when he was insulted and provoked.

Real leadership potential often is seen only during tough times. Hard times produce the best leaders. When we look at it historically, we see several leaders emerged during tough times to navigate the world in the right direction. Leaders such as Alexander and Abraham Lincoln surfaced during tough times. For instance, Abraham Lincoln was responsible for uniting America and played a crucial role in the abolition of slavery. Although his tenure as President of America was short, it is a memorable chapter in American history. Several American Presidents look up to Lincoln and consider him an example whenever they face challenges.

Grooming Students as Leaders

Dr. Helen and Alexander Astin of UCLA reveal interesting findings, such as:

  • Every student has the potential to be a leader.
  • Leadership cannot be separated from values.
  • Leadership skills must be taught.
  • Every student will need leadership skills in today’s world.

It is a fact that leadership can be taught to students in educational institutions. When you look at the Armed Forces, you see how it absorbs teenaged and young people into its fold to mold and groom them as leaders. You can see that the success rate of military leaders is far higher than civilian leaders. This is basically because the candidates are picked up at the right age through psychological tools and tests, and are groomed and provided with feedback. The feedback given in the Armed Forces is rigorous, impartial, and constructive. Leadership guru Warren Bennis was himself a soldier who fought during World War II. Military personnel also are subjected to many hardships, and that makes them strong leaders. You cannot create leaders in comfort zones. In fact, true leaders are developed only in effective zones. Similarly, civilian educational institutions must spot the students with a leadership spark in them, and groom them. Leadership educators can play a crucial role in developing students into strong leaders. Students have to be trained through experiential learning, and should be taken into the real world and asked to practice under the supervision of experienced leadership educators. Whenever the students make mistakes, the leadership educators will correct and guide them. At the same time, students must be given regular feedback to enable them to learn their strengths and weaknesses, and then to overcome their weaknesses, thus excelling as successful leaders.

Leaders and Powers

According to social psychologists John French and Bertam Raven, power is divided into five forms—legitimate, coercive, reward, expert, and referent. Leaders are aware of all these powers, and it is usually leaders with referent and expert powers who are widely respected. If leaders are good at domain knowledge, they possess expert power. Those leaders who enjoy referent power can last for a longer time than a leader with legitimate power, coercive power, and reward power, because people respect such leaders irrespective of their title and designation.

Leaders who possess reward power can enjoy temporary status as leaders; however, the moment they lose their reward power, people might choose to stay away from them. Leaders with coercive power are temporarily respected, but once they lose their status, they automatically lose their leadership status, too. And people detest such leaders who are coercive by nature. Leaders who have legitimate power can survive as long as they hold their positions, and also may survive if they deliver their goods effectively while wielding legitimate power.

Is Everybody a Leader?

As parents, you provide direction to your family, care for your children and groom them so they can grow up with a good character. As an educator, you mentor your students. As a salesperson, you serve your customers. As a pastor in church, you provide sermons. All these people serve others through some positions and titles. They are all leaders irrespective of their positions, titles, and ranks, as they serve people. They make a difference in the lives of people. Hence, everybody is a leader. Not everybody can become Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther King Jr., but let us learn to lead and influence others as best as we can. Many little drops make a mighty ocean. When all of us lead in a small way, it will make a major difference to society.

Professor M.S.Rao, Ph.D., is an international leadership guru and leadership educator, executive coach, speaker, and consultant. He has 34 years of experience and is the author of 30 books including 21 Success Sutras for Leaders (http://www.amazon.com/21-Success-Sutras-Leaders-ebook/dp/B00AK98ELI) that was ranked as one of the Top 10 Leadership Books of the Year – 2013 by San Diego University. His award-winning bookSuccess Tools for CEO Coaches: Be a Learner, Leader, and Ladder,” is the Community Award Winner for 2014 by Small Business Trends (http://bookawards.smallbiztrends.com/management-2014/success-tools-for-ceo-coaches-8/). His award-winning book, “Smart Leadership: Lessons for Leaders” (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D9S8SCW) has been published as a Spanish language e-book. His vision is to build 1 million students as global leaders by 2030 (http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.in). He has been honored as an upcoming International Leadership Guru by Leadership Gurus International (http://www.globalgurus.org/leadership/upcoming.php) and listed as one of the leading achievers around the world in Marquis Who’s Who in the World in 2013. He serves as an advisor and judge for several international organizations, including Global Leadership Awards, Malaysia. He received the International Coach of the Year 2013 Award from Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc. http://www.terrilevine.com/coachoftheyear/winners.html Professor Rao coined an innovative teaching tool called Meka’s Method; a leadership teaching tool, 11E Leadership Grid; and a new leadership tool called Soft Leadership Grid, based on his new leadership style, “Soft Leadership” copyrighted with Jossey Bass. He led a Webinar on Soft leadership organized by International Leadership Association (http://www.ila-net.org/Webinars/Archive/Rao082012.html). A No.1 ranked speaker in India, reviews can be found at: http://speakerpedia.com/speakers/professor-msrao. Books can be found at: www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A16SKI0396UBRP. Most of his work is available free of charge in his four blogs http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.in, http://profmsr.blogspot.com, http://professormsrao.blogspot.com and http://professormsraoguru.blogspot.com. You can e-mail him at msrlctrg@gmail.com and follow on Twitter at @professormsrao Contact him via e-mail at msrlctrg@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @professormsrao.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.