In recent years, floods destroy homes, fires ravage forests, businesses shut down, people lose jobs and losing their colleagues, friends, loved ones. Loss is everywhere. People from all walks of life are suffering physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
We need more leaders than ever more than before. We need leaders to gather, influence, coordinate and lead the community or their organisation. We need leaders to guide people out of the floods, fires, digital chaos and show a path towards safety and better health. We need leaders to reinforce the humanity in our neighbours, our communities, our organisations, our nation, and the world.
We need leaders to work with the people and help the collective move towards a desired future. A future where people of diverse backgrounds feel welcomed and appreciated. A future where people need not worry about their next meal or making rental/mortgage payments. A future where children can walk the streets without fear so that they can play, learn and lead a healthy life.
Whatever the future might be, you must engage and take action in making this future a reality as a member of the community or organisation. We can no longer wait for others to fix our problems, solve our issues, or develop our community for the better. Even if an authority figure swoops in to save the day, nobody knows your colleagues, your neighbours or your family better than you.
We have the power and the resources to overcome any issues. The only limitation is our mindset. We are more than who we think we are.
The world needs many diverse leaders.
When more people become leaders, there will be more solutions to problems. We have plenty of problems in the world. Economic instability, climate crises, homelessness, statelessness, racial discrimination, lack of access to education and healthcare are only a fraction of the world's problems. Each of these issues needs skilled and diverse leaders in various locations.
Leaders are needed in all walks of life. People who make the best leaders are involved with the issue, motivated to change, and with essential leadership skills. We need women, young people, immigrants, people with disabilities, indigenous, gender non-conforming, low-income and many others to become leaders NOW.
The voices of the minority, discriminated, marginalised need to be heard and raised. Leadership is not only held in the powerful few. Leaders from diverse backgrounds need to represent the very people who need help and are deeply involved in finding solutions.
What makes a leader?
A leader has only one important characteristic, which is when a person leads, others follow. Yet, there is an interdependent relationship between leader and follower.
The leader depends on the followers to help them understand their issues, emotions, thinking, environment, history, etc. Likewise, the followers rely on the leader for guidance, instructions, role-modelling and so on.
A leader cannot be a leader, if they do not consider the perspectives, needs, well-being of their followers. A follower cannot follow, if they do not understand its leader. For a leader to be successful, they need the skill to communicate, engage and influence followers.
Other characteristics mentioned in the vast leadership literature refer to the leader's style rather than leadership itself. These are characteristics such as intelligence, charisma, decisiveness, and many others.
Three Types of Leader
When we hear the word "leader", the image that comes to mind are CEOs of corporations or politicians in government positions. This refers to the"traditional" form called Elected Leaders. Leaders are elected, though not always, into their position because of their skill, influence, power or charisma. Traditional leaders typically lead a group of employees in an organisation or citizens of a region.
The second type of leadership consists of religious leaders, association presidents, community leaders. They are also known as Civic Leaders. Civic Leaders represent the interests of a particular group or institution. Their title signals to others of their responsibility as well as their scope of authority. For example, the title "President of XYZ association" indicates that they are the leader of the XYZ association. Their scope includes running the association, duty of care, and representation of its members when interfacing with other associations.
However, some leaders do not have an official title. Unofficial Leaders are usually unelected leaders, but others gravitate towards them. Typically, these leaders have the know-how and respect of the people in their communities. They are often seen as "unofficial" experts of a particular topic or issue. They can provide advice or insight. These unofficial leaders may also have the influence and connections to move people and resources to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
For example, an unofficial leader can be the coordinator of your neighbour book club. Or the person who runs an informal donation drive for flood/war/fire victims. Or it could be the person who teaches others to skateboard and tend to them when they fall.
Leaders Help to Shape Culture
Culture is difficult to change because it requires a behaviour change. Change is necessary to solve problems. To solve problems, leaders become responsible for shaping culture.
Yet, even with a skilled leader, culture cannot change overnight. Culture is a learned behaviour. Therefore, the leader's behaviour is shaped by the existing culture. If your culture endorses and systemises discrimination, it takes great effort for the leader to recognise and unlearn these practices for themselves before expecting others to change. According to Edgar Schein1, an MIT management professor on organisational development, says
If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.
Thus, leaders need to self-reflect, unlearn, learn and role-model new behaviours to their followers. By demonstrating what is possible, followers can follow and propagate the new behaviours, subsequently changing culture.
When is the right time to be a leader?
Depending on the type of leader you become, any time is a good time to lead. Leading can be fun, challenging, exciting and rewarding. Some are motivated and driven to be promoted or elected into leadership positions because they inherently find this role rewarding.
Leadership is a personal choice. If you decide to be an unofficial leader, you can choose to lead or engage in ways that bring excitement, energy, growth and bring out the best in you. There is no point in leading if it drains you. Leadership becomes unsustainable and detrimental to you and your followers.
How to develop leadership skills?
Many leaders learn from previous experiences or from observing leaders in their lives. Their leaders could be their parents, teachers, peer, club presidents, bosses and many others. Most leaders learn through trial and error. However, this might not be the most effective or efficient way to develop leadership skills. Here are five simple tips on how to develop leadership skills.
1. Get training.
Join at least one management or leadership program. When you have the budget and time, join as many as possible. Leadership and management have plenty of models, theories, approaches, and frameworks to choose from. Continuous learning encourages self-reflection and improvement. By tapping into different models or perspectives, you have multiple tools to use when it suits your situation best.
2. Find a mentor.
Is there a leader you admire? Someone who you aspire to be? Ask if they could be your mentor. A mentor will be able to provide their perspective based on their experiences. They can be your sounding board for your new ideas. Or they can forewarn the challenges ahead before trying a new leadership strategy. In times of self-doubt and indecision, having a mentor to call upon can contribute to your leadership development.
3. Keep up-to-date
If you don't have the time to join training programs, stay up-to-date with articles, books, talks or podcasts. There is an abundance of materials to help you keep in touch with the latest trends or refresh your knowledge with classical theories. With a few clicks of the mouse, you can access all this knowledge. Why not use them?
4. Get feedback on your leadership skills.
The people who know us best are the people around us. In the workplace, our colleagues, subordinates, clients, and bosses can provide feedback on our leadership. Don't look for someone who only paints rainbows and glosses over flaws. Also, don't look for an overly critical person either, where everything you do seems wrong. You won't be able to learn or grow. Find someone whose opinion you trust. Someone who can give you meaningful, specific and practical feedback.
5. Connect with a community of leaders.
As you look beyond your organisation and community, you might recognise other leaders too. Take a quick look on social media platforms or join local leadership events.
Find a community of leaders. These are people who go through the same leadership challenges and have learned their lessons. A community of leaders will provide diverse perspectives and also creative ways of overcoming leadership challenges.
With all the problems that need fixing, the world needs MORE leaders, not less and more DIVERSE leaders, not the same powerful few. A leader need not have an official title, though having one helps. With the right skills, motivation and vision, anyone can be a leader.
To develop leadership skills, you need to constantly learn and the support from trusted people. When you become a leader, you are responsible for shaping the culture of your community or organisation, which is not an easy task.
Most importantly, we need more diverse leaders because we need more people to work towards solutions and talk about the problem. As Brian Tracy2, a Canadian-American motivational speaker, once said,
Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.
1. Denison, D. R. (Ed.). (2012). Leading culture change in global organizations: Aligning culture and strategy (1st ed). Jossey-Bass.
2. Tracy, B. (2008). Effective Leadership. Jaico.