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Episode 63: What Makes a Leader a Leader?

podcast Apr 11, 2023

Are leaders born or made? It’s human nature to sort things by comparing this or that. However, this kind of sorting has significant limitations. In spite of that, this exercise of sorting can help us achieve a deeper understanding of a thing or get clearer on our criteria for a decision. Add to it a lens of both / and it can be helpful in answering today’s question. 

What makes someone a leader? It seems like some people are thrown into leadership and others strive for it?

Let’s first dive into the question of “what is a leader?” Next episode we’ll talk about how  some people are thrown into leadership and others strive for it. So, what is a leader…

Positional Leadership

In my opinion this is the least influential type of leader. You could say they have followers because the org chart draws a line from other people to the leader. But, if you define followership as loyalty and support – well, it doesn’t take much to see how limiting this definition of leadership really is. 

Expert leadership

When people see competency they are drawn to it. There have been leaders – without an organizational title – that have changed the world and people have followed the ideas of inventors or scientists and that influence has moved well beyond any organization. It also shows up in other roles like trainers, or consultants, or contractors; an author or podcaster who contributes their expertise to influence the direction or capacity of the team. 

 Thought leadership

Closely associated with this subject matter expert or expert leader is a thought leader. A thought leader is more like a mentor or a sage. Someone who has been where you are and offers insight and wisdom into your situation because they have been there before. Roles might look like a board member who serves as an advisor, it might be a senior leader who offers advice to other leaders, it could be a consultant outside the organization who brings their wisdom from experience to you to share. 

Relational leadership

There are people on our team that are just natural at creating allies, networking across the organization and bringing people together. This relational influence is powerful when accompanied by a positional role, but doesn’t require a position to be leadership.

If you look around your team or your organization, you’ll notice the people that have influence regardless of position. People know them. People go to them. Their words have impact. People will follow their lead even if they don’t have the position. 

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