To lead or not to lead? Leadership is a choice not a title.


“We often use the words ‘leaders’ and ‘leading’ interchangeably. However, I believe there is a significant difference between these two terms. So what is this difference? At the heart of this answer lies a simple lesson in grammar.  You see, one of these words is a noun (leader) and one is a verb (to lead).” (Suderman 2015)

I was asked yet again, how can you lead if you have no followers? We touched on this topic a year ago and, funnily enough, we are asked again by the same highly esteemed, successful and respected professional…but I’m happy to go over it once more.  For starters, I have come to believe that leadership is a choice.  In my 15+ year career I have encountered many people in leadership roles.

Some were leaders in an official capacity – either by title or authority i.e. entrepreneur – and some of them were in unofficial capacities like de-facto experts and or senior staff members.

In both cases I have met people who were in leadership capacities and led by thought, word and action and some who did not lead at all.  The latter were at times in charge of entire divisions, sometimes even their own company, yet they did not lead and were therefore mere figureheads.  I am not saying this in judgement. Sometimes the fact that they did not take an active role was a good thing, as they had made sure to put teams together or surround themselves with people that assumed that role whether by need or desire.

You see leaders, true leaders do not have a choice but to lead.  It is such a core value that most of the time you are not even aware you are doing it.   No I am not contradicting myself.   The point I am trying to make is that to be a leader you do not need followers because it is so ingrained in your DNA that you have no choice but to lead.  I am a leader.  I do not say that to brag. In fact sometimes I have tried to be a follower just for kicks and, trust me, it does not last long.  Being a leader has meant I have been disliked, I have been resented, I have argued, I have cried, I have worked myself to exhaustion.  I have led even when it seemed to the world I had no idea what I was talking about.  When I faced extreme opposition, I have led when the only person believing and listening was me.  It has not always been difficult, in fact most of my career has been an absolute joy.  I am one of those freakish people who loves what they do and does it happily all day every day.

Leadership is very misunderstood; everybody thinks it is always a good thing and that it always involves others.   Having spent a considerable amount of time studying, embodying and coaching leadership, I know first-hand there is both a light and shadow side to leadership – whether leading others or just yourself.  There can be good leadership and bad leadership, and it can also mean different things to different people.  There can be ruthlessness and selfishness and self-destruction.

Leadership in action simply means you are carrying out or executing a vision or a mandate that you believe in.   Something that is linked to an intrinsic value or need within self.  When that action resonates with others, and they choose to follow it, then it becomes leadership as you know it.  There is after all the element of free will in humanity.  You have the free will to lead or the free will to follow.


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