According to the dictionary, a leader is someone with commanding authority or influence. However, that definition falls short. The leadership expert Peter DeLisle is more specific: “Leadership is the ability to influence other people, with or without authority.” It is very easy to get others to obey your orders when you are their superior in the chain of command; the key lies with those who, even without pulling rank, can get others to share their vision and follow them. Think of a soccer or basketball player who, despite not being captain, is able to rally his teammates and make them follow his lead.
The ability to influence has three elements. The first is awareness, i.e., understanding that every action has an impact. The second is ability, in terms of communication, conflict resolution, and decision-making. Finally, the third is a commitment to your ideas, which means making decisions that may not always please everyone and dealing with the consequences.
Vision, personality, honesty, persistence, hard work… So many qualities are attributed to leaders it can sometimes be difficult to identify with them all. However, the ability to influence others is clearly a leadership skill.
The problem is that education has always been based on very rigid structures, making it seem like everyone fits neatly into a specific slot of the organization chart, taking it for granted that there are leaders and followers. All of this sets the bar for leaders so high that very few people see themselves as fitting the profile. However, any professional can develop this ability, provided they have the right training, are passionate about their work, and surround themselves with a good support group. We need to think of ourselves as leaders.
It is very easy to get others to obey your orders when you are their superior in the chain of command; the key lies with those who, even without pulling rank, can get others to share their vision and follow them.
That Special Kind of Leadership
One example of someone who is both an entrepreneur and a leader is Ludwick Marishane. One day, Marishane was sunbathing with friends, when one of them complained that he needed to take a second shower because it was so hot out he was already sweating again. A light bulb went off for the 18-year-old South African, who drew up a business plan for what today is known as DryBath. Based on this plan, he won a $10,000 prize and became the youngest patent holder from his country. Today, he is CEO of the company that makes this product, which can be distributed in regions of the world where water is scarce and enables the prevention of many diseases. Figures like Marishane embody the traits that are common to leaders and entrepreneurs alike, such as a future vision, dedication, and capacity for work.
Another entrepreneurial leader, Steve Jobs, once told an interviewer how hard it is to start a business: in addition to the right training, you need to maintain a constant and intense relationship with other people and know how to choose employees who can make or break the company. Indeed, the Apple founder claimed, success largely depends on the people you surround yourself with, whose qualifications, intelligence, and, above all, commitment matter.
One skill that entrepreneurs do have is adaptability. Entrepreneurs do not always know where they want to go, and sometimes new paths emerge to be explored. To take advantage of them, you need to keep an open mind. To this end, it is common for entrepreneurs to change their business model when they discover that their initial idea does not work in practice. This ability to acknowledge mistakes and adapt to circumstances makes the difference between a business’s success and failure. Of course, failure does not have the same meaning for these types of leaders regardless; they know that behind each failure lies an important lesson that will bring them closer to success.
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