You are not a leader. No, not even you who founded a non-profit or you who is president of a club at your school. I know, it’s a brazen statement from a fellow subpar-leader like myself, but the statement still stands.

Let me explain. If you are the person in the group project who does all the work, you are not the leader. If you are the person who can run an organization filled with self-motivated people, but not one with those who are uninterested, you are not a leader. If you’re good at giving orders but fail at motivating your team, you are not the leader. If you are a one-way street, no outside opinion kind of person, you are not the leader. If your team hates you, you’re probably not the leader. If you pride yourself about doing no work, but having your team get work done, you are not the leader.

You’re the boss, the big girl/boy, the figurehead. Congrats, you’ve made it to Level 2. Does that make you a leader, though? No, there’s a distinct difference between “leader” and “boss.” A boss is someone that manages, organizes, and assigns roles to subordinates or members, but they’re not a compelling force that motivates people to “unlock their full potential.” The saying, everyone hates their boss, is wide spread for a reason. You’re not supposed to hate a leader.

A leader is many things. A leader is a listener, a facilitator, a visionary, a hard worker, an empath, a giver, and a guiding light that people can trust, follow, and be inspired by. No one is born a leader. Sure, we’re born with leadership qualities like empathy, creativity, productivity, and charisma, but one doesn’t become a leader just by exercising a couple of those qualities. Instead, it’s a journey, a process where we constantly learn and grow. Those qualities must work together to create the leader that you want to be.

Control-driven, power-hungry, micromanaging personalities that listen to no opinions other than their own or those above them are not leaders.

I was that kind of “leader”. I had the vision of what I wanted, where I wanted to go, and how I wanted to get there, but this vision was a strict, one-way road with little flexibility. I would consider other people’s ideas but never took them seriously, and I truly undermined the ability of my fellow teammates. I micro-managed, stressed them out, put too much work on myself, distributed no responsbility, and didn’t listen to them because I thought leaders were supposed to be unnerving, unmoving, and bold people that got things done.

What happened? Two things. 1. My teammates stopped caring about the project I was leading and 2. I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of success my clubs/projects had and the lack of engagement from fellow teammates.

I failed so many times in my leadership journey. I micromanaged a stock market team in 8th grade, and we catestrophically failed. I founded a club and getting poeple interested and involved was a taxing and failure ridden process. I was rejected from a position I thought I had in the bag. I struggled in group projects, I found it hard to lead people that didn’t want to be lead, and I was frustrated. In truth, I was about to quit trying to be a leader and was convinced that it just wasn’t in my personality.

But I gave it one more shot. The Young Writers Initiative, an organization dedicated to educating, servicing, and inspiring young writers. That’s not all it is to me. TYWI most literally saved me. It dragged me out of slump and showed me the possibilites. It re-invigorated my passion for leadership and writing, it gave me a place to exercise all the things I’d learned about leadership through my failures, it gave me a fresh slate, a purpose, and most of all, hope that maybe I wasn’t destined to be a failed leader after all.

This is where I discovered transformational leadership. Transformational leadership is the type they failt to teach us about in elementary school. Transformational leadership is centered around the concept that you have to care about people. Your team members, your employees, your volunteers, whatever it is, you need to care about them and show them you care about them.

You need to be real, so real that people are shocked that this big, scary person they originally encountered is actually not that big and scary. Transformational leaders lead with their actions, not with their words. They can be goofy and light-heartened when chatting, but when it comes down to business, they lead with a stronghold vision and impresses their team with their intelligence and drive. They make mistakes, but they’re not afraid. They take huge risks and explore big ideas. They challenge their team members, they give away responsibility, they reliniquish control.

And you may think…well, how do people respect them? That’s the beauty, idealized influence. These actions actually cultivate a love for a leader. When you genuinely pour your soul into your work, care for your team, lead by example, and challenge everyone to be the best they can be, you are transforming them from the inside. You are also transforming yourself, and people begin to admire your leadership for that reason. They want to stay.

How do you start becoming one? Well, I can’t say I’m one yet, but I’m on the path to become one.

  1. Ask for feedback, and real feedback. Make the feedback optional AND anonymous. Listen to those critics and take them in.
  2. Lead by example, not by delegation
  3. Relinquish control–people love responsibility
  4. Work as hard, or harder, than everyone else

This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. Leaders fail, and they fail a lot, but what distinguishes a true leader that a superficial one is grit. You fail? Pick your team back up and try again. Are you scared? Take the risk. Are you demotivated? Talk to your team, raise your spirits, and conquer another day.

Leaders have to be prepared to fail and take the blame for it. Prepare yourself for that before it destroys you. The more resilient, dependable, and reliable you are, the more of a true leader you are.

And that, my friend, makes you a leader.

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