I’m a follower, not a leader. Or am I?

I had a difficult time believing I would ever be a leader. In fact, I was always perfectly fine being a follower. As a shy, quiet introvert, I always envied others who were talkative and outgoing. They were who I wanted to be as they exhibited qualities I thought were characteristic of leaders- brave, determined, motivated, persistent, liked by all, sociable- mostly everything I was not. I liked taking the backseat, and, on occasion, being forgotten and ignored if that meant the spotlight would not be on me. I had nothing worthy to contribute, and felt quite worthless as a human being. At times, I just wanted to disappear. Oh, how I dreamed that the Harry Potter invisibility cloak was mine!

But to be a leader? To make choices that would impact the lives around me? I don’t think so! With much poking and prodding down into the depths of my soul, I found something. I found that I did possess some of those qualities I envied in others as I am determined, motivated, and persistent, even brave sometimes when I need to be. I have started to stand up for what I believe in and have learned to say “no” when I think I am being taken advantage of because of my kindness and willingness to please others. I have also had plenty of time to observe qualities in others, and in myself, that I believe are true characteristics of leadership. Through my observations, I have realized that true leadership is more than being popular and sociable; it is being able to express empathy and understanding towards others, showing a love of continuous learning, and enthusiasm for teaching.

Far too often, people are quick to judge and dismiss individuals based on appearances, social status, and education. True leadership involves being able to understand another person’s situation instead of ignoring it, and trying to accommodate while supporting the needs of that individual. Developing empathy is not an easy characteristic for many people. Showing emotions is usually looked down upon and even regarded as being “weak” in our society. Hiding, masking, and faking our emotions have become the norm. However, I have found that those who exhibit the greatest empathy often have been in similar situations; therefore, they are better able to relate and understand the emotional aspect of this characteristic. Empathy is an integral characteristic of leadership that is far too often overlooked; understanding the emotions of others is a powerful characteristic that true leaders do not ignore.

Leadership is a learning process, and the most effective leaders take advantage of learning opportunities. Knowledge is critical to understanding and conserving the world around us. Knowledgeable leaders are able to inform and teach others, thereby utilizing their learning to influence the lives of others. Learning is a continuous process, though we sometimes learn the most from our mistakes. What we perceive as being an advantage can actually have detrimental effects on everything around us. Life is a fragile balance, and to be successful requires weighing both the good and the bad. Most of the time, a love of learning may be instilled in an individual at an early age, although the most important lessons may be realized when we least expect it.

Effective leaders not only actively pursue learning opportunities, but they also actively pass that knowledge on to others. Teaching is a valued leadership trait as it can improve the lives of others and it can leave a lasting impression that may forever change the course of someone’s path. Developing this leadership trait may come naturally to some while others find it challenging. However, I believe that our ability to teach others is inherently present within ourselves from an early age. Whether showing a younger sibling how to ride a bike or giving a presentation in front of strangers, teaching is one leadership trait that is present in all of us.

Where I once envied individuals who expressed those traits, I have now realized that I do, in fact, possess those characteristics myself. Everyone has the capability to exhibit leadership traits. Some may need more encouragement than others, but the traits are there, perhaps buried under doubts and insecurities. It may just take some poking and prodding to realize it.

What are your leadership characteristics? They are there, I promise!

Until next time,

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