Why most of us don’t see ourselves as leaders
John Maxwell noticed that when he announced free leadership training open for all, in organizations or universities, only a few people signed up for it. When he followed up, he found out that most peole did not view themselves as leaders and were quick to say, “ah, this training is not for me!”.
Unfortunately, this is the kind of mentality held by many people. Some do not think they can be leaders while others think that a leadership position is not something they want to be associated with. This is because of the picture painted by our community regarding leadership.
Here in Kenya especially, leadership has been mainly painted as political leadership, which is associated with lies, insults, lack of integrity and a lot of not so admirable traits. Besides those who are interested in political leadership, you’ll find a lot of people turning down any opportunity they are given to lead others, say in the work place unless it is an official appointment.
The one thing we forget about leadership is, you do not have to be in a position of power to be a leader. We tend to think that once you are appointed manager at your work place, where you have to make decisions, it is the only time you will be required to portray leadership skills. When you think about it, you are a leader in many ways than you can imagine; When your siblings come to you for advice, when you have kids and you want them to become sane humans in the future, when you are appointed the head of your chama, when you organize your friends for a social gathering or when you emerge as a group leader during a group discussion in schools or seminars; among others.
You can read Robin Sharma’s A Leader With No Title to understand this. I’m sure we all know one or two leaders with no titles.
While I worked in one of the local colleges here in Nairobi, I knew of one leader with no title. Let’s call her Lisa. Lisa was basically an administrator, meaning there were other positions that were ‘above’ her. I put above in quotes since I am not a strong believer of positions. There was the director, principal, dean of studies and other departmental positions before her level. Hers was a tiny office full of stationery cartons that she was responsible of procuring while the other ‘leaders’ sat in vast offices with paintings on the walls and luxurious couches for guests to sit on. Yet you would find that everyone who had an issue or needed advice about anything at the work place would go to Lisa. Her office was always full of people asking: what do I do? Where do I find? How do I deal with? She always had answers for everyone and encouragement even when things were tough. There came a period when the management had difficulty convincing the lecturers to get work done due to internal disagreements. Guess who managed to talk to them and won their favour? Lisa! Lisa was offered an opportunity to become the dean of studies but she declined. Had the position been offered to some people in that organization, they would have rushed for it, just for the title and the ‘power’ that comes with the position.
In my opinion, Lisa is a way better leader than any other person in a power position. She is approachable, does not mind serving others, influences others to get work done without rewards, listens, learns and leads others.
That’s why I think we get it wrong when we assume that leadership comes with a position. And most times, due to the negative image we have of leadership, we decline the opportunity when it comes because we think we are not made for it. We all have experienced this, when there is a voluntary position of leadership; say like a group leader, we throw the responsibility at each other since no one wants to be the leader. Well, unless there are perks that come with it. In a seminar, which involves group discussions, you’ll find that most do not want to take the leadership position. Yet all one has to do is influence the groups to get the work done.
This is especially common with introverts. I tend to relate with introverts more because I am one and we hate to be in a position where all attention is on us. I have learned to deal with this since I am in training and lecturing, I cannot evade attention. However, this is the only time, when I am teaching, that I am comfortable with attention. I also volunteer as a group leader because it offers lessons from the challenges faced though sometimes when I sit back to allow others to take charge I am faced by resistance.
I think in our own ways we can be leaders if we want to. While you hear celebrated leaders like Martin Luther and Malcolm X because of their great oratory skills and speeches that we quote to date; there are also silent leaders like Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi who silently found ways to influence masses. While leadership is not for everyone, we all have a capacity to lead in our own ways; titles or no titles. You just have to find it within you and take the initiative.