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Leadership Skills: They’re Not Just for Those at the Top

  • POSTED ON MARCH 02, 2023
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Leadership has historically been held as a particular role reserved for a select few. When asked to describe or define traits of “leadership,” many people use words such as charisma, effectiveness, vision, communicator, and capacity to persuade. Moreover, leadership skills have often been viewed as innate in nature: skills that you’ve either got or not, and if you don’t have them, you can’t learn them — or at least, you can’t learn them in a meaningful way. These notions are partial truth at best, and downright misleading at worst.   

Everyone Is a Leader  

The more nuanced truth is this: leadership is not a title to be held, nor is it a role reserved for a select few. Instead, leadership is a way of being and showing up. And when it comes right down to it, all humans are leaders in some way, in some sphere, at some times. This means that, like it or not, we all carry leadership responsibility. In recognition of this truth, a fundamental tenet of the Co-Active leadership model is that leaders are responsible for their world, and everyone is a leader.    

This frame can be daunting for some and liberating for others. Due to our historical view of leadership — the idea that only some are born to wear the mantle of leadership and hold the responsibilities that go with it — many individuals shy away from seeing themselves as leaders. They balk when the concept of leadership is presented to them, or when they hear others using leadership terms to refer to themselves. This view does not serve anyone well. It’s time for all humans to step into the new leadership paradigm, the one in which liberation is achieved through everyone holding their own leadership responsibility.  

Debunked Myths about Leadership 

For all of us to be able to own our leadership capacity, a few myths must be busted, and truths must be embraced. In no particular order, here are a few myth-busting truths: 

  • Leadership is not a title to be held or conferred, even though leadership titles are often used in our world. Instead, leadership is a way of showing up right where you are — at work, at home, in your community. It’s about leaning into your individual capacity to effect change when and where it is needed.
  • Leadership is not static. In other words, you don’t become a leader with all the corresponding responsibilities and then stand still while the world moves around you. In fact, leadership is a capacity that ebbs and flows, one with which human beings can dance, as it were. Leadership as an action shows up as a way of moving things forward, pushing things back, or holding things steady as needed.
  • Leadership is not exclusively loud and boisterous. While leadership is often held as a domain inhabited by natural extroverts and those who are big and bold, the truth is that effective leadership can just as easily be experienced as subdued. Some of the most powerful leadership moments are found in the space of quiet stillness, around those who listen more than they talk.
  • As an extension of this last point, leadership isn’t about providing answers all the time. Truly effective leaders ask questions and source answers from the people and spaces around them. The “being” of leadership can look like childlike curiosity and in turn yield incredible results.
  • Leadership is not something that happens only “at the top.” Leadership is something that happens throughout a system. Effective leadership is found in some way, shape, or form at all levels of an organization, group, or community.
  • Leadership is not a solitary endeavor. The biggest myth out there might be that somehow “leaders” are individuals who stand alone and hold ultimate and sole responsibility for all things. In truth, leadership is a shared experience and a shared responsibility — which means that leadership doesn’t have to be a lonely, isolating gig. Imagine that!

When all these myth-busting truths are embraced, what becomes apparent is that there is an opportunity for all of us to reorient ourselves to the concept of leadership. We get to hold the concept more broadly. Those of us who cling to leadership and hold it with an almost possessive jealousy need to let go a little. Those who shy away from leadership as if it were something to be avoided need to lean in and embrace it.    

Benefits of Leadership Skills 

Now, imagine for a moment a world in which this new paradigm is the one held as the norm. What becomes possible? What might be created? And what might be alleviated? There is so much possibility in a world where leadership is held as a human experience for all rather than a role-based or title-based experience to be owned by a few. Think about it:  

  • Fewer people would hold all the weight of problem-solving and solution-sourcing. When leadership is shared, no one person or handful of people are left holding the bag, as the saying goes. Everyone, collectively, shoulders responsibility, bears the weight of supposed failures, and joins in celebrating successes and wins.
  • There would be an increased sense of connection and ownership, with less of the “not my circus, not my monkeys” mentality that can plague those in positions of responsibility. Everyone would know the metaphorical circus belongs to everybody.
  • There would be less blame and finger-pointing and more genuine, shared accountability. And even on the occasions when accountability is taken on by any one individual, it wouldn’t be done with a “we versus them” energy; it would be with an understanding that while this one person is accepting responsibility, everyone still gets to pitch in and help rectify whatever went askew.

I realize that for some, the scenarios described above may seem Pollyanna-ish. But what if they aren’t? What if we could start to embrace the possibility that shared leadership is a real, vital, tangible way of creating the world in which we live, breathe, work, and play?

Here’s what I know for sure: when we can let go of the “what if” — when we can put aside our doubts and worries about what might be lost when we share leadership — we can leverage the leadership resources that reside in all of us. By leveraging the leadership potential in ALL, we no longer need to rely on the leadership capacity of a few, which makes for more productive spaces in all spheres. Bottom line: leadership skills are not to be found, held, or even developed in only a select few; leadership skills are found in everyone, even those who might need a little convincing. 

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Written By

Gail Barker

It's time to stop the glorification of busy. Busy is NOT a marker of success. Living meaningfully, living with a sense of ease (which doesn't mean that life isn't hard), living with purpose -- these are the true markers of success, and they show up uniquely for every individual.

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