There have been many, many debates over the question “What defines a leader?”
But I’d like to offer a really simple explanation given to me by a friend and colleague Lesley Hunter. Lesley often poses this very question to the leadership and management groups she is working with.
So what is her definition?
“To be a leader you have to have at least one follower, even if that follower is you”.
Every time I look at this simple statement I am bowled over by its elegance. In answering the basic “What defines a leader?” question Lesley is also posing another unstated, but perhaps more significant question.
“So would you follow you, as a leader?”
How often do you see people who are desperately trying to get others to steer a course that they themselves wouldn’t even consider if they thought about it for just a few minutes?
In my experience, when I’m having the most difficulty getting people to follow the path that I’m beating, then it’s time to stop, and reflect on whether I would follow me? If the answer to that is a “no”, then at that moment I’m not actually a leader. I am somebody who is simply trying to get other people to do something.
The good news is that it can happen the other way around as well. I have been in situations where I have asked this question and my answer has been a resounding “YES”. It’s at that point I decide to stick to my guns and press ahead (even if I am out there on my own).
The other good news is it acts as a great reminder to me never to underestimate the leadership potential that is to be found in the world of small business. The significant majority of businesses in the USA and the UK are micro-businesses.
So if you’re the owner of a micro-business you should be proud of your leadership credentials. Unlike the ranks of corporate leaders that can parade their armies of (paid) followers for the entire world to see, you have the unenviable task of keeping your leadership game at the level where you would follow you. And you have to do it every day, 365 days a year.
In maths the ^ symbol means a minimum amount. That’s why for me the formula L=^1F means (L)eadership is (=) having at least (^) one (1F)ollower even if that follower is you.