I’ve built many sales and marketing teams over the years. I’ve led many to success and some to failure. Throughout my career I have learned a great deal about leadership and leading people to achieve a desired goal. One of the important facts I’ve learned over the years is that there is a clear difference between taking the lead and being a leader. Having a true understanding of this difference helps to effect the best possible outcomes.
The difference between taking the lead and being a leader is quite simple. When you take the lead you exert control. You see examples of people taking the lead everyday throughout the world. Kids take the lead to be the captain of the kickball team at lunch. Executives maneuver to take the top spot in a company that may be floundering. Yet these examples and others like them do not demonstrate leadership. They simply showcase situations that arise where there is a vacuum at the top and any opportunistic person has the chance to step in and take control. But that’s not leading.
Taking the lead involves control. It often times results in a new regime rising to the top that is less focused on the team and much more focused on an individual or small group of individuals. This is not to say that in times of need that someone with noble intentions can’t rise to the top and become a leader. Those situations do happen but are less likely when there is a leadership vacuum at the top.
The most significant difference between taking the lead and being a leader boils down to one ability. The ability to inspire. Great leaders inspire. They get people to dream big, to not accept the status quo, to challenge conventional thinking without fear of embarrassment or disappointment. The best leaders inspire people to own their own destiny. To not settle for mediocrity. To live the change we want to become, as Gandhi said long ago. Leaders who are able to inspire possess a quiet confidence. A sense of conviction that is both strong but flexible. Strong leaders are learners and adapters. They are able to see things as they are while formulating a plan to shape the future they intend to create. They are driven by the need to be of value, and of service, to others and they inspire the very best from each of us while doing so.
These highly favored leaders are those individuals that we all like to follow, to watch, to cheer on. These are the people who make us feel confident in the value of our personal contributions, and are able to rally a diverse group of folks to charge off in a common direction. They inspire each of us to reach for, and obtain greatness. They are the real leaders.