No matter how old you are or what type of role you have in life, there are times you’re a follower, and there are times you’re a leader.
I don’t care whether you’re in high school or leading a firm with 500 people, some situations require leadership.
When you get in trouble with your group or friends at school, there must be one person who takes ownership and apologizes.
When your company has to deal with a huge setback, there must be people who lead the way toward growth.
When your relationship with your partner is on the line, one of you must commit to improving it.
You see, when people talk and write about leadership, we often assume that you need a title to be a leader. “A CEO or president, that’s a leader,” is what most of us falsely assume.
Look, being a leader has nothing to do with your job. Leadership is a character trait that we can all cultivate. In fact, I believe leadership is one of the essential skills that every person should have. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think that leaders are born.
Yes, some people are naturally more dominant and assertive. But leadership is about more than those things. I know leaders who are introverted and soft-spoken. But how do you lead? How do you get people to follow you? How do you get people to listen to your ideas?
It’s something my readers often ask me about. I recently received this email:
“My team is small but has very strong, opinionated people. I find myself playing mediator on a daily basis. It takes up a lot of my time, but I believe in making time for the people side of work. However, it can really be mentally exhausting.
I’d love to hear you talk more about team dynamics and how to stay positive around negativity. How to really influence change.”
This is what leadership is about. I don’t think you can make people do anything. You can’t make people follow you or listen to you.
I’ve been fortunate to be around many business leaders. One of my mentors is one of the wealthiest people in The Netherlands. He never told me what to do, and yet, I’ve learned many great lessons from him.
There’s Only One Leadership Strategy
Everyone knows this. You can only lead by example. There’s no other effective way to inspire people.
If you want your team to be positive, you must be positive. The same is true for your family, partner, and friends. Leadership is about ownership. I like how former Navy Seals, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, put this in their classic leadership book Extreme Ownership:
“The most fundamental and important truth at the heart of Extreme Ownership: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”
If you think that your team sucks, you suck. “But I’m not the leader or manager.” That’s what people often hide behind. So what? Remember how we talked about that leadership is not about titles?
This is exactly what I mean. So you might technically not be the leader at your work, family, or group of friends; you can still set the right example.
“How do you set the right example?”
Here’s how I personally do it:
I only expect from others what I expect from myself. I will never ask you to do something I’m not doing. All my articles and courses are based on my actions and actual results. But because I have high expectations of myself, I also expect that from the people I work with.
When things go wrong, I try to stay calm. Life is nothing but a series of solved problems. That means we run into challenges, problems, and bad situations all the time. It’s important that you stay calm and take your time to think. If possible, I don’t make quick decisions. When I stay calm, others will too.
When I screw up, I admit it. I’m the last person who believes he’s perfect. Even though I try to stay calm and positive—sometimes I lose my shit too. I admit it and then move on. But I always make sure I learn from it and I never hold a grudge. There’s no place for your ego.
I’m clear about my values and rules. Look, there are certain things I don’t put up with. For example, lazy people don’t get my respect. And I’m not sorry about that. Also, I’m not afraid to attack assholes. People must take you seriously.
I respect others and don’t try to change them or tell them what to do. It’s impossible to change people. You can only change yourself. What other adults ultimately do is none of your business. I can set the right example, but sometimes it doesn’t work or takes more time. I accept that.
These are the lessons I’ve learned from studying leaders from all walks of life: From business leaders to spiritual leaders. To be honest, when someone asks about “influencing change,” the truth is that it can be done.
The most important thing is that we change ourselves. And when WE change, others often feel inspired to do the same. That’s the greatest thing one could see. When I receive emails from my students and readers about how they made big changes to their lives, I feel happy for them. And I often write back that the only person they have to thank is themselves.
But what if some people don’t change? That’s probably better news than you think.
You don’t want to be around those people. So leadership is also about self-selection. Not only the strong—but also the leaders—survive.