Leadership is an attitude, a mindset. Not an action.

Many articles have been written about leadership, its characteristics, how to behave as a leader and how to ‘act’ when you are in a leadership position. Here’s my view:

Leadership is a frequently used word. You will find numerous definitions, some of them claiming it to be an ‘innate’ skill that cannot be taught. And yet, it is one of the most sought-after qualities in organisations. Leadership is about people rather than tasks. Hence excellent leaders with the ability to communicate effectively will retain excellent staff.

Leadership – as well as good communication – can be learned. I am inclined to say that leadership is the highest form of communication. 

Leadership is not a personality trait, it is a skill.

And yes, it might be one of the tougher-to-learn-ones. A skill that requires a broad spectrum of awareness, openness and willingness to change. Someone wanting to develop their leadership skills cannot stop at the behavioural level. They need to start by looking at values and beliefs, not only their own yet also at those of the ones around them. Emotional intelligence, empathy and compassion are strongly associated with the ability to lead – communication does not solely work on an intellectual basis. One of my favourite quotes in this context is: “You can become soft in the heart without becoming soft in the head” by Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of Omega Institute. I am convinced that recognised leaders, consciously or unconsciously, act according to this principle. And while you can of course have role models for your own leadership style, ultimately, you have to discover and develop your individual style if you want to lead with personality and authenticity.

Leadership consists of 3 basic essentials:

Leading yourself

If you want to be an effective leader, you have to start with yourself.

How well do you manage your emotions? Do you let them dictate your actions – or do you master the flexibility to choose the state you’re in for any given situation? Are you able to focus your energy for the benefit of your mission? Do you have the right mindset to achieve what you set off to do? And do you manage your time effectively – not only for your own sake but also for that of your organisation?

Leading others

There is no ultimate recipe book with the must-haves to lead others. However, there are some important skills and competencies to have when it comes to motivate others to follow: being capable to build and keep trust, having and showing honest interest in people, establishing and following clear rules, walking the talk – to name just a few.

Real leadership cannot be decreed. It is granted by those following you.

Being led by others

Allowing others to lead you is an integral part of being a true leader: having the ability of letting others guide you when necessary, listening actively and valuing their expertise, letting them ‘brief you on the matter’ and make perfect use of the space that you as a leader give them in order to enable them to grow.

Can one lead ‘from below’? Of course, they can! Ideally, boss/es will be grateful to deal with someone who is acting responsibly, actively – and smart. Do get me right [1]: leading from below does not mean to ‘overrule’ someone who is in a senior or higher position. It means taking initiative, exposing others to your information instead of keeping it to yourself. Companies that see this as a resource, an opportunity rather than a threat will generate new generations of leaders without constantly having to hire them from outside.

[1] I am aware that the correct expression is “Don’t get me wrong”. However, I wanted to formulate it in a positive way.