One of my clients recently made some of their long-time employees partners in their firm, and it got me thinking about the difference between following and leading. Partners are invested in the outcome of the business; they aren’t just there to “follow” orders. They are much more likely to take initiative, to take leadership — because they care about what happens next.
Following orders, doing what you are told, and accomplishing those orders — that’s awesome. There’s nothing wrong with that. And that might be your role in your current job. But it’s never the role in your own life; you are the leader of your own life. You are wholly invested in what happens next. And you are the one who can make a difference in the outcome.
Ultimately, leadership is about inspiration. Consider this: When you think about a person who embodies great leadership, who comes to mind? It’s a question I’ve asked in front of all kinds of audiences, and the most common answers might surprise you. Rarely do they mention MLK, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, or Oprah Winfrey; they seldom mention historical figures or activists or politicians. No — 90% of the time they mention people more real in their life, their grandmother, or their football coach, or an old teacher. They mention someone who made a difference in their life personally. Those historical, iconic people are amazing, but it’s difficult to see ourselves in them so they become, in a way, untouchable; but our grandmother/coach/teacher is real. Tangible. Specific. Reachable.
When I ask what qualities these people possess to have earned a moniker such as ‘great leader,’ the responses cover a lot of things, among the most common are: they’re inspirational, a visionary, a great communicator, courageous, kind, selfless…but what I find most fascinating is that the list will inevitably end with something like, “Well, I don’t know, really, it’s just that when I’m around this person, I feel like I can be so much more. I believe in myself more. I feel inspired.”
Now, consider what that means for being a leader in your own life, to your own self. What makes you a great leader to you? How would you treat yourself with inspiration, empowerment, vision, kindness, courage…what in your life is a call for courage? What do you most need to hear to believe in you, and what stops you from saying it and giving yourself permission to step into who you really are? What do you want to cultivate in yourself? What do you already appreciate about yourself — how do you inspire yourself? Don’t be shy in your response; own it!
Regardless of our titles at the office, it’s time now — more than ever — to be our own leaders. Inspire means to breathe into. It’s time to breathe into ourselves the motivation that those awesome leaders, those loving grandmothers, those inspirational coaches were able to do. It’s time to be the inspiration we seek in the world.
Lead — the good news is, you are already capable of it.
You already are an inspiration. You just need to embrace it.