“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Leadership is an important and poorly understood concept that has enormous impact on our lives. People follow leaders and leaders incite change for good or ill and for selfish or altruistic reasons. Being able to effectively lead means that you can exert disproportionate influence over an outcome.

Personally, I’m interested in leadership because I’m driven to change things for the better (in my opinion). Looking back on my life, I see that I have a tendency to be vocal and active when I recognize a need or opportunity for change, and to contribute as much as I can towards that change. As a result, I’ve found myself in positions of formal and informal leadership in pretty much every organization of which I’ve ever been a part. Wanting to be as effective as possible, I’m constantly studying the literature and applying lessons so that I can make the most of every single opportunity.

If you want to be a leader, you might benefit by asking yourself some questions.

What is your purpose? Why do you want to be a leader? Mahatma Gandhi advised people to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” What change are you hoping to make, or what are you hoping to achieve? Are you leading an organization in a new market? Leading your team to a championship? Leading yourself?

Without knowing the answer, it will be difficult to appropriately direct your efforts and communicate with potential followers. As John Wooden advised, “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.”

Even if you don’t personally want to lead, it’s important to understand that many lessons in leadership have a corollary for followership; for instance, storytelling is an important aspect of leadership, and knowing that empowers followers to critically evaluate the stories told by leaders.

What skills do you need?  In Lessons from the Top, Gavin Esler writes that “The indispensable skill for all leaders in business, politics, sport or any significant field of human endeavour is the ability to create followers and communicate effectively with them.”

While that is accurate, it glosses over the actual techniques that a leader utilizes to attract followers and communicate with them. For instance, the leader must be adept at understanding the audience, listening to input, developing a message that resonates, communicating that message through a variety of media, and so on. Important, but perhaps secondary, skills include organization, prioritization, teaching/coaching, and many more.

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