Leadership Is Earned, Not Given

A leader is often perceived as someone who is put in charge. But real leadership is earned, not given.

“Leadership is an action, not a position.” — Donald McGannon

You are a leader by acts alone, not by title.

Titles are a fact of life, but they are merely a signal pointing to who is expected to lead. True leadership is not given. It is earned.

The best leaders are not interested in fancy titles. They are too busy going places everyone else refuses to go. They are doing what everyone else thinks is too difficult or impossible. They are plowing ahead when everyone else has given up.

If you want to lead, start with the advice of Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

The following principles will help.

Know the purpose. As Ira Chaleff points out, “followers and leaders both orbit around the purpose; followers do not orbit around the leader.” Don’t rely solely on your appointed leader to show the way. You must understand and buy into the purpose... the mission.

Set the standard. According to Ray Kroc, “the quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.” It isn’t what you say. It is what you do and tolerate. Your conduct must match your expectations of others.

Move hearts and minds. Eisenhower sums it up this way: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” When you don’t have the title or authority, you must help people discover the way for themselves. When you do have the title and authority, favor the same approach over commands.

Show the way. As John Maxwell observes, “a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” If your appointed leader is distracted or unwilling, take the reins on their behalf. You already know the way.

Observe carefully, then speak. According to James Humes, “every time you have to speak, you are auditioning for leadership.” Invest time in listening and understanding. Then speak.

Start with these fundamental principles, and people will follow you regardless of title.