The most logical answer is that it depends on what we mean by leading. It doesn’t depend on the person doing the leading. It depends on your definition of a leader.
If you define the leader in the traditional way as being someone in a senior position then clearly not everyone is a leader. Certainly not everyone has the capability, motivation or desire to work at a senior level in an organisation. Nor is there space. As people develop their careers and work their way up the hierarchy there are fewer and fewer top jobs. So from this perspective clearly not everyone can be a leader.
If you define the leader as being the person with the authority then again not everyone can be a leader. However, it depends on how you define authority. In the traditional sense it means the person with the positional power. However, people can also have authority with their knowledge, skills, expertise, relationships and ideas. This wider definition of authority opens up space for more people to be leaders.
If you define the leader as the person who naturally takes charge then we’re getting into the old debate around leaders being born rather than bred. From this perspective leaders are often seen as those people who are extravert, charismatic, and have strong personal power. However, in his book ‘Good to Great’ Jim Collins presented his research that found that people with the opposite characteristics tended to be the most successful business leaders. Since then there has been a lot of research into charismatic leaders and at best their performance can be described as volatile. It appears that they are just as likely to lead people in the wrong direction as they are to take them the right way. At worst, a lot of the research has identified that charismatic leaders can become destructive to their organisation if they also have tendencies towards being narcissistic and having a desire for personal power.
If you define a leader as being different to a manager then we are getting into the old debate about the difference between leading and managing. The consensus view in this debate is that leadership is about creating change and management is about ensuring consistency and predictability. The fact is that leaders have to manage and managers have to lead.
If we define the leader as being the person who is using their influence for a worthwhile cause, then we are all leaders. From this perspective leadership is about using our strengths to serve others and have a positive impact on the world. This type of leadership is aligned with cutting edge thinking on the world of work that we are now entering, as Andrew M Jones outlines in his model of the fifth age of work and the "anthropological leadership" model. This style of leadership enables us to work together in flat organisations where there aren’t always people with positional authority. It distributes leadership to enable the best person to lead in the situation has the space to come forward and take the lead. Distributed leadership also provides a counterbalance to those amongst us who have more destructive tendencies.
So if we are all leaders, who’s doing the following? The answer is we all are. We are all leaders and we are all followers. In fact the best followers are often also the best leaders. Leadership for them is not about their ego. It’s more of an opportunity to serve in a different way.
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