Just Taking a WalkA leader without any followers is just a guy taking a walk. That statement might be called a thinker but have you ever met someone who is a self-declared leader only to find that they are still looking for followers. Leadership is earned. It cannot be decreed by others, declared by one’s self, or determined by our DNA.

We become a leader when we inspire others to embrace a common goal. Followers must perceive a benefit to them or their cause before they will embrace the leadership that will get them to their cause.

An individual who has been given a leadership title (decreed leadership) is not a leader until he has someone to lead. Often this leadership position is hollow, lacks direction and is unproductive. It’s like assigning someone to watch a parade on TV.

A self-declared leader is a figment of his imagination. It’s like bragging that you are the CEO of your company of which you are the only employee. We all have to start somewhere. But a CEO of a successful company has a team that supports the company’s mission. They share a commitment and passion for the common good.

The born leader (it’s in his DNA) is a product of his environment. If it was in his “DNA” but he never had anyone to teach, counsel and set an example, then he would not be a leader. He is just a person with DNA like the rest of us.

Leadership is earned. Leadership is a learned skill. You can’t earn it until you know what it is and you possess the leadership skills. You can’t possess the skills until you learn them. We learn them at home (the family), at school (teachers, mentors, books), and in life experiences (environment).

When we read about great leaders, they often reflect on the foundation of their leadership skills. Their early years and the family environment becomes the foundation and determine the direction of their development. Poor or rich. Educated or uneducated. Oppressed, suppressed or depressed. Leaders evolved from these family environments. All these conditions become the foundation for the individual leader.

Great leaders will also credit their education. I believe that personal mentorship is important to keep the student motivated. However, the pursuit of knowledge through books and experience will develop and hone the leadership skills. There are many books on leadership. Most are saying the same thing in a different way and that’s good. We learn through repetition.


Developing the Leader Within You by John Maxwell

Jump Start Your Leadership by Shawn Doyle

Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips

Leaders will tell you that they are always in the learning mode. They read leadership books and they associate and listen to other leaders. The more responsibility they have to lead, the more knowledge they seek. They try to surround themselves with successful people who can help them lead.

If I am to be a leader, I must answer a few important questions.

  1. Have I made the commitment to learn the leadership skills necessary to lead? The leader is a product of the books he reads and the people he knows. He is constantly in the learning mode. A great leader was a good follower long before he became a leader. Leaders make commitments long before the team takes the field.
  2. Do I have a passion to help others achieve their dreams and goals? A leader looks at the big picture. Success is beneficial to all the team members. General and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
  3. Am I willing to make the tough decisions and to put the needs of the team ahead of my personal needs? When things are tough, I need to do more and when things are going great, the team is doing a good job.

A chain is as strong as its weakest link. The leader must recognize the weak link and either grow, change or eliminate it from the team. A team’s level of success will depend on the level of commitment and passion of each team member. It’s not the average level, but the lowest level of commitment that will undermine a team’s success.

Leadership is lonely and demanding. It is lonely at the top. But you will find that great leaders are humble, dedicated, committed and passionate about the cause and the people they lead. Not everyone is willing to make such a commitment.

“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.” – John Maxwell

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.” – Andrew Carnegie

So when someone declares that they are a leader, look over his shoulder. You’ll know if he is a leader or just a guy taking a walk.

Make it a great day.

Dr L