Flava Flav (before reality TV got a hold to him) was in a group called Public Enemy. In one of their hit songs, he belted, “don’t believe the hype!” Unfortunately, some of us didn’t listen. Some of us still fall for the Oke-doke and believe the lies about leadership. And not just any lie, but the biggest lie “THEY” ever told about leadership. When I facilitate leadership retreats at different schools, the same question always rears its ugly head and is typically followed by similar if not identical answers. It goes a little something like this:
Student Leader A: What type of person makes the best leader?
Student Leader B: the best leaders are type A personalities, outspoken, public speakers, you know the Zack Morris kid. They are just natural born leaders.
Me: DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE!!
The best leaders are Type A personalities or people are natural born leaders. These are the BIGGEST LEADERSHIP LIES ever told!!
Take a moment to think about your ideal leader and you might notice that you’re image is not far from the above students image. It’s because of the image of leadership portrayed in media, from cartoons and comic books to movies and autobiographies. Leadership is normally portrayed as a handsome white male, with muscular features, great speaking ability, and generally loved by all. Even though these characters don’t wear t-shirts that say leader, it’s obvious they’re in charge. They say art imitates life, well sometimes it’s the other way around. Because most of society has become comfortable with this image of leadership, we tend to look toward and vote for people that closely line up with this universal ideal of leadership. It’s no different on our college campus’ and sometimes we get it right, we elect leaders with a passion and ability to get the job done, but don’t believe the hype!!
There is no one type of person that makes for a better leader, unless you want to call accountable a personality trait. There is no such thing as a natural born leader. We are born with a few abilities and I’m sorry but leadership is not one of them. Our experiences and conditions shape who we are as people and as leaders. We are the sum of our reactions to life challenges (that needs to be in somebody’s fortune cookie). Just because you are not the most out-going or outspoken person in a group, doesn’t mean you are not best suited to lead. The qualifications of leadership differ from group to group, but there are some traits great leaders have in common: (here are a few in no particular order)
Passion – not the outwardly showing let me give you a rah-rah speech kind either, but the intrinsic motivation that fuels your drive.
Accountability – most leaders make the most of their ability and the abilities of those around them. They hold themselves responsible for striving towards excellence and make it easy for others to do the same.
Vision – the ability to look at the present with the future in mind. Great leaders are able to forecast where their organization needs to go and just like your favorite meteorologist they make it plain so you can adjust accordingly.
Thick-Skinned – great leaders welcome criticism, both constructive and destructive, they take it and roll with it. They sift through it and find the things that can help them and their group and move on. It’s not easy taking on a leadership role and you will never please everyone. If you take every negative about you to heart you’ll be in trouble.
The list of attributes for a great leader is a mile long and being out going or outspoken certainly make the list but they are nowhere near the top. Leadership is not an adjective. It’s not something that describes who you are. Leadership is a verb, it describes what you do. The next time you think you are too quiet to lead, or too young or any other limiting thought……don’t believe the hype!!