What makes a leader a leader?

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Angelica N. Wetzel
  • 319th Air Refueling Wing Network 56 President
Leadership is a journey of discovery. It is the expression of a person at his or her best, whose purpose is to transform something for the better and to develop this potential in others. Being an effective leader is not a one person pursuit, but requires you to harness the energy and talents of those around you. Are you expressing your leadership potential? Consider your life at work, at home and in social situations. Are you a leader, or simply a manager? Are you developing leadership skills and using them to improve your organization and your personal life?

Effective military leadership requires skills which are virtually unknown in the civilian world. These leadership skills are taught through extensive training in leadership and developed throughout a person's career. Leadership is a process that helps a group to achieve its goals, and with leaders and group members working together cohesively, we can mutually influence each other's ideas. Being a leader through example means showing your peers what it takes to be a leader. Exerting effort, working hard, and showing your commitment will gain the respect of your peers. Leadership is a process in which leaders and followers engage to achieve mutual goals. We are all leaders and followers at different times. People express leadership when they act as part of an integrated whole, and it is important that individuals and organizations develop together.

What makes a person want to follow a leader? People want to be guided by those who they respect and who have a clear sense of direction. When a person is deciding if they respect you as a leader, they do not think about your attributes, but rather observe what you do so that they can know who you really are. Through observation a person is able to tell if you are an honorable and trusted leader, or a self-serving person who misuses authority to look good and get promoted. Self-serving leaders are not as effective because their employees only obey them, not follow them. They may temporarily succeed in many areas because they present a good image to their seniors at the expense of their workers.

The difference between leadership and management amounts to more than a different set of skills. Management is based on order and control and makes use of sophisticated processes. Leadership, on the other hand, is about expressing the human spirit -- the real source of greatness. We cannot teach leadership in the same way we teach management. People express leadership when they demonstrate the best of themselves and others. Management thrives in a stable environment and a hierarchical structure. But we are living in a world that changes constantly, and we must rewrite the rules. Leadership will be at the heart of all our efforts to improve our organizations and our world. It will require the courage that is at the heart of all leadership.

Remember -- Leadership is a journey, not something that can be solely taught through a class room. It requires time and reflection.