Where Do Leaders Come From?

Like many of you, I have been using Netflix as one of my coping mechanisms during the pandemic. While watching the movie ALPHA, I was inspired by one of the lines in the movie to write this post.

“When there are no more leaders to follow… you must become one.”

I’m not sure about you but I’ve been paying close attention to leadership over the past 5 years. I can’t help but feel that the world has been lacking when it comes to leaders who are worthy of following.

When it comes to the perception of what a leader is, many would conjure up images of a charismatic, outspoken, confident extrovert, who always knows exactly what to do and never show any signs of weakness. They come from “good families” and likely attended all the best schools before getting a job at a top company, rising quickly through the ranks to assume their destined role as a leader. Many people believe leaders are just born with some “leadership gene” that endows them with their natural leadership abilities. You just either have it or you don’t. But what if I told you this picture of what leaders are and how they come to be, couldn’t be farther from the truth.

So where do leaders come from?

In reality, leaders can come from just about anywhere. When examining age, leaders could be 9 or 99. When it comes to role, leadership can show up an any level, in any position within an organization. Good leaders can just as easily be introverts as they can be extroverts. They could have a PhD, or they may have no formal education at all. Amazing leaders can be males or females and they may reside anywhere in the world and speak any language. They can also come from any economic background. If fact, there could be amazing potential leaders all around you, but they may not be aware of their own potential or they may feel unworthy or unsure about stepping up.

The beginnings of leadership start with a decision. It can manifest itself in many different ways and at many different scales. You could decide to voice your opinion during a meeting, offer your insight on customer service, submit a suggestion for improving employee engagement, volunteer to help take on a new initiative, provide feedback to a colleague, show someone how to do something they’re struggling with. If you’ve ever had a situation where you were guiding or motivating someone else, you were exhibiting some level of leadership.

Some people shy away from taking actions like these because they feel it could make them more visible, it could increase their responsibilities or make them accountable for something that has the potential to fail. Companies that adopt a culture of blame will likely miss tapping into the true leadership potential within their organization, whereas companies that encourage experimentation and embrace the learning failure can bring, will likely see the internal leadership of their people blossom and flourish.

Leadership does not magically show up with a job title. Being bestowed titles like manager, supervisor or director don’t instantly make someone a great leader. We’ve all had experiences where new bosses and leaders are shall we say, a little rough around the edges. More often than not, individuals need to grow into these roles. It’s quite common for senior level experts in any given field to get promoted into management and leadership positions. But going from an industry expert to a leader takes time and practice, which is why many companies have internal leadership training programs. That being said, if you are willing to embrace learning and growth, make mistakes and accept feedback, becoming a great leader is within your grasp.

One of the best ways to learn to become a great leader it to be mentored by one. I’m a strong believer that leaders are responsible for creating more leaders. Find someone you admire as a leader in your organization or in your professional network and reach out to them and ask them how they got to where they are. You may even feel brave enough to ask them if they’d be willing to mentor you. Who knows, one day someone may come to you asking the same thing. I’ve learned that quite often in life, if you don’t ask you don’t get.

I wrote this article in the hopes of presenting leadership in a different light. I wanted people to see that leadership can be accessible to anyone willing to step forward, take a chance and believe in themselves. If you’ve ever had the feeling deep inside that you can do more and be more, this is likely your inner leader looking for a way to break free.

I am reminded of a relevant line from Harry Potter series that we will close out this post with.

“Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now, students. If they can do it, why not us?”

The world is in need of more leaders who can show us the way forward. Why shouldn’t one of them be you?