What does a leader look like? If you're anything like me, you grew up influenced by several leadership ‘myths’ that made you believe that a leader wasn’t something you could ever be.
“I hate public speaking… I'm not an extrovert… I don't always make the right decision or say the right thing… I'm just not a natural leader….” Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, many of us go through life with an unrealistic image of what a leader looks like, and as a result, we convince ourselves we don't have the personality, smarts or we simply don’t have what it takes. This too was my perspective, but all it took was one simple realisation to transform it:
Leaders are made, not born.
Earlier this year a friend recommended I check out the UNSW Leadership Program, so I looked it up and thought, “Why not?” One of the first things they explained was that it’s dangerous to believe leadership is genetic – i.e. some people are born leaders, and some just aren't. That really caught my attention. I was intrigued. Might some of my personal goals be within reach after all?
Then they introduced the concept of the ‘Transformational Leader’ and I was hooked. Here was a leader I could really believe in. Someone offering a real sense of mission, purpose and value. Someone who can see the big picture and is motivated by the positive impact they can have on others rather than driven by self-centred desires.
I also learnt that just because someone is in a position of management or authority it doesn't necessarily make them a leader. Real leadership comes when you stand for something meaningful and are prepared to take real action to achieve it. If your actions inspire others to follow, and their actions inspire others to follow – that’s leadership. Powerful leadership too because people are there because they want to be there, not because they have to. That’s the hallmark of a transformational leader and THAT can be anyone!
I look at my friends, and all the people I meet every day at UNSW Engineering, and I see a group of incredibly bright, yet humble, authentic and kind-hearted people. You have to agree that if there's one thing we do well, it's helping each other out, and I like to think it's because we have something fundamental in common: as engineers we do what we do not primarily for money, power or prestige but because we love it and we care about helping others and creating things that make the world a better place.
This alone proves that we all have what lies at the core of great leaders. As Tim Cook, CEO at Apple, puts it, “It's not all about me, a major characteristic of great leadership.”
So, don't let anyone tell you you're ‘not leadership material’, because you have the toughest part down already: the character of a leader. The Leadership Program can help you understand what makes a good leader and develop good leadership skills, so if there’s something you want to turn into reality, what are you waiting for? Step out. Be a leader. Make it happen.