Last week my friend and I were running some errands for her upcoming wedding. And at some point, we found ourselves talking about leadership (totally off wedding topic, I know!) She said something that made me wonder for days and even inspired me to write this post. We were discussing how we see ourselves (as leaders or followers), when she looked at me and said, “No, you’re definitely a leader; not a follower.”
The one thing that kept me from stopping short when she said that was the fact that we were walking in the middle of a busy street and someone would have definitely run me over.
Why was it a big deal, you might ask. Well, you see, I was not born a leader; far from it.
Back in primary school, I remember a particular year where our classroom was divided into groups and each group had what we called a prefect. I never volunteered for that. For me, it meant stepping outside of my comfort zone and taking action when all I wanted was to be treated the same as my friends; no more, no less. At that time, for me, being a follower meant being free of unnecessary responsibilities and it was easier to follow orders.
Until one day, our teacher put me in charge of the group. I was shy and I even had to make an effort to be heard because my voice was so soft. I didn’t quite understand why our teacher would handpick me at the time. I honestly felt bad about it and even objected a couple of times. But now, years later, I understand that she wanted me to go through that experience for a reason.
And I didn’t give it much thought before my friend pointed it out. It also made me wonder if there was a particular point in time where the change happened. I was so used to seeing myself as shy even during my time at University. I didn’t speak unless spoken to, I preferred sticking my nose in a book rather than start a conversation with someone I didn’t quite know and did all the backend work just so I wouldn’t talk in front of the whole class during a presentation. I was that girl.
But work, colleagues, friends and life help you grow. Now, taking the lead comes naturally. I voice my opinions, take action when the rest hesitate and am prepared to go the extra mile. Being a leader comes with great responsibilities because you have to be the one who paves the way, be resilient, set a good example, know how to listen, inspire, give credit where due, respect the team, communicate effectively and ask not order.
Despite feeling the need to lead, in some cases it has been required of me to be a follower. And being a follower is not the same thing I did when I was a child. That’s being passive. After all, we are all followers in some aspect of our lives. And that can actually help us become good leaders; by being good followers.
So it’s not just about being a leader, is it? It’s about being a good leader. Be the one who inspires others not the person who scares them off. Be transparent, truthful and set an example for the rest of the team. Be the kind of leader that you would follow.
It is true that some leaders are born. But I believe that leaders are made. Live, experience, observe and listen.