The Leadership Attitude
To understand leadership, let alone exercise it, you need the right attitude. There are a lot of bad examples of what it means to be a leader, and so to some degree everyone grows up with wrong ideas. The only solution is to discover where you might be headed in the wrong direction — because if you're going that way, you can't expect people to follow you to the right one.
Leader, Not Boss
Being a leader is a subtle thing. Because of the way institutions work, many people associate leadership with being in charge. A boss is someone who has authority over others, a power that is granted by a formal relationship within an organization. Supervisors can give orders, and if they lack leadership skills but have some luck, the people in their charge might even listen. Then again, they may not. In reality, it's almost impossible to force most people to do what they don't want to do.
That is why leadership is so powerful and necessary. Those who know how to lead don't force others to help them achieve goals. They persuade, inspire, coax — and motivate. Leaders are successful because those who follow actually want to.
Focus on a Goal
The biggest difference between a leader and a boss is motivation. What the leader wants is to achieve a goal or a set of objectives. Ego is not part of the equation; those who would follow don't feel that they make efforts for someone else's glorification.
By focusing on goals, the leader also makes it possible to track the success of the venture. With a clear agenda, the group can see if it is approaching its goals.
Giving Yourself Permission
For similar reasons, being persuasive, popular, or charismatic isn't the same as being a leader — and a good thing, too. Few people have that sort of animal magnetism, and yet many who don't still want and need the ability to lead, no matter where they find themselves.
When you understand that a leader isn't the same as a boss, you also start to free yourself from a debilitating attitude. When only the boss is allowed to lead, what does every other person in an organization or society do? They wait for something to happen, for the boss to decide. While waiting, they accomplish nothing toward that common goal.
But when you know that anyone at any level can lead, you've given yourself permission. No longer do you have to wait, frustrated and angry that nothing happens. By taking responsibility for a goal, leaders also take charge in their own lives. In the process of helping a group strive toward a common goal, leaders actually do become bosses — of themselves.