Not everyone is a leader.
Not everyone SHOULD be a leader.
Not everyone NEEDS to be a leader.
Not everyone would enjoy being a leader; not everyone would be good at being a leader; and, believe it or not, not everyone WANTS to be a leader.
It’s fashionable these days to market self-help material by promising that it will make you into the LEADER you KNOW YOU CAN BE! Doesn’t that sound GREAT?!?
Few people stop to ask: if everyone purchasing these materials are fashioned into leaders…uh, who, then, are they leading?
There’s even an inspirational meme going around that says something to the tune of, “great leaders don’t create followers…they create MORE LEADERS!”
So, got that? Apparently we’re all going to be leaders!
The reason the word “leader” is used so often in marketing materials is because the people who turn out these materials think everyone wants to think of themselves as a potential leader.
And why wouldn’t they? In our culture, we associate leadership with attributes like courage and exceptionalism and charisma.
Everybody wants to be the “lead actor” in their own drama. Nobody wants to be an extra, or even a supporting player.
Our egos, in other words, entice us into thinking of ourselves as always potential leaders. We’ve come to think that there’s something wrong, or maybe even shameful, about playing any role that isn’t a “leadership” role.
(The unspoken subtext of all of this, of course, is that self-help materials get disproportionately marketed to people who think of themselves as “leaders” because the working theory is these are the people who are willing to pay for the advice and guidance that will supposedly make them into leaders.)
Here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with leadership, or wanting to be a leader, or cultivating the habits that leaders are supposed to embody in our culture.
But it is a mistake to think that, if you don’t happen to be in a leadership position, that you cannot show courage, inventiveness, charisma, or even exceptionalism.
“Leader” is but one role that is necessary for any given organization, group, or effort. Because leaders tend to be more publicly visible or easily identifiable than other members of a group, they tend to be overemphasized when people think about the identity of an organization.
Great leaders don’t mean much without great supporting players.
Prize fighters don’t get very far without the expertise and consistency of their cornermen and training partners.
Candidates rarely win without committed, intelligent, and passionate staff and supporters.
Planes wouldn’t get off the ground if the pilot was the only crew member available, and ships would constantly run aground if the captain was the only person manning the bridge.
Why is any of this relevant to you?
Because I don’t want you to get sucked up into cultural myths or marketing hype.
When you are thinking about how to design your life, and when you are evaluating tools and systems to help you achieve your goals, you are going to be subjected to lots and lots of propaganda that will try to tell you if you’re not a leader, you’re not important.
The thing is, you may not want to be a leader. You may not be equipped to be a leader. Leadership may not be where your particular set of talents and tools is best used.
I want you to design a life that fits you.
I want you to design a life that prioritizes what you want to do; what you like to do; what you’re good at; and where you’re most effective.
On a broader scale, I want the world to let go of its destructive attitude toward “leaders” and “followers.”
Not being a leader does NOT mean you are designated to be a passive zombie, devoid of agency or responsibility.
The fact is, leaders often don’t have a great deal of say about where their free time goes. (In many cases, they don’t have an awful lot of free time, either.)
Leaders often have much less flexibility and autonomy than you think they might.
It’s true that leaders exert a certain amount of control over certain specific domains…but they often pay a price for that control, by giving up control over a great deal of their focus and energy.
All of which is to say: don’t buy into the leadership hype.
Think for yourself.
Define for yourself what role you want to play in the organizations, companies, groups, and family systems in which you exist.
And do NOT feel pressured to buy products or services on the premise that they can make you a “leader”…because true “leadership” is really hard to teach.