This is the title of an ebook I’ve been working on that’s designed to teach leadership skills—whether or not you have any intention of taking on a traditional leadership role. A big part of the book is understanding that the way we traditionally use the word leadership actually does a huge disservice to the concept.
I’d like you to watch this video. Maybe you’ve seen it before, but if so watch it again anyway. It’s a little silly—but please, watch the whole thing. And listen closely to the narrator.
In all kinds of life pursuits, we have a need for people to follow. Except that “follow” sometimes has a derogatory connotation, where it feels like “following” means you’re weak-minded or something. We didn’t see that in that video though, did we? What we saw is people coming together to cooperate in a mutual pursuit. Sure, there was the visionary, the person standing out in front with a new idea. But that’s actually not leading. Visionaries are, in fact, often very poor leaders. Look at brand names like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, and you see people who inspire, but who don’t necessarily lead. What you don’t see are the actual leaders working with them, the ones who bring together all the people needed to make that vision happen. The ones who show other people how to join in. How to follow, if you will.
Leadership isn’t telling people what to do. It isn’t checking in on them to make sure they’re doing their tasks. Leadership isn’t assigning resources or juggling budgets. Those things are managing and supervising, and they’re valuable tasks.
Leadership is simply helping people see where they fit into the vision. How they play a role in making it happen. Leadership is formulating a strategy to help a vision come to life, not necessarily engaging in the daily tactical tasks of actually getting it done.
And that’s why anyone can lead.
Leadership is a single software developer, rallying the team around a new set of deliverables and helping everyone believethey can get it done. It’s a single network engineer, explicitly telling their peers that they can accomplish this new infrastructure rollout, and reminding them of all the experiences they’ve had in the past that prove they’re capable. It’s the server administrator who thoughtfully presents a migration plan to their end-users, helping them understand the value they’re going to realize and showing them how they can be a part of making that value a reality.
So why am I make such a big deal of this?
I run into a lot of people who say they don’t want to move into management. And that’s 100% fine: management is a specific kind of job, and like any job it’s best done by people with an aptitude for it, and a desire to do it. But leadership is different. Leadership is simply helping other people see where they fit into the plan, encouraging them to be a part of the mission, and supporting them as best you can when they need it. Anyone can—and I would argue, should—be a leader, regardless of whether you’re in management or not.