The word leadership is thrown around liberally, but it is less common to analyze what leadership means, to think about who leaders really are, and to consider how to expand the pool of leaders. People usually think only of the actions a leader takes, often forgetting that a real leader must have followers—people who willingly and eagerly work with them to achieve common goals.
I believe we in the leadership development and coaching realm need to rethink the term leadership and use it to describe a person who can actually build relationships and influence followers to change the future. I suggest that when a person simply holds a title of authority, we should use only the official title of supervisor, manager, director, CEO, etc.
I also believe it is important to develop leadership skills in a larger group of people. That group includes parents, members of the community, volunteers, and ordinary citizens who see a problem and are willing to step forward and work with other people to make a difference. Many leadership skills are the same in any arena; more people need the skills and attitudes of leadership to address the issues that face so many in society.
We can point to absence of leadership in a variety of government and corporate structures. However, the need for leaders is just as great in communities and small organizations. A report on the future of nonprofits from the Annie E. Casey Foundation way back in 2010 stated, “There is a severe shortage of young, capable and dedicated leaders prepared to move into key positions as existing leaders prepare for and move into retirement.” It went on to say, “During the next 20-30 years…the leadership gap will likely expand into a chasm.”
The Kellogg Foundation issued a report on the need for community leaders in the US, which included the following statement: “the need for effective leadership in an increasingly global, rapidly changing, and knowledge-based society is more apparent than ever. We operate from the premise that while many 21st century communities are eager to shape new visions for themselves, they often lack the relationships and collective leadership experience required to realize these visions.”
With our social, economic, political and environmental concerns, the need for capable and authentic leaders—people who influence others to create a better future—is critical. It is obvious that people cannot wait for someone else to do what must be done.
In business, that future involves profitability rather than loss. For communities, a new future means sustainability rather than decline. In families, the future is the difference between loving, caring relationships and dysfunction.
Building a better future requires expanding our focus so people who have not considered themselves leaders learn what leadership means and learn the skills necessary to connect with and influence others through strong and genuine relationships and emotional attachments. These relationships generate possibilities that allow individuals to be the leaders, parents, scientists, friends, artists, or entrepreneurs they can become. These possibilities change the future for all of us.