I grew up thinking leadership was for someone else.

In my mind, leaders were born to rule the rest of us. They were better, elite, even superhuman. They got up at 5am and worked till midnight. They had boundless energy and absolute clarity. Their plans and strategies were always successful. They had high flying careers, huge incomes, perfect kids and adoring fans.

I, however, was a follower. I was average, standard, run-of-the-mill. I liked a lie-in. I had no real idea what I was doing or where I was going. I was an expert in getting things wrong. With luck, I would find a mediocre, steady job and hopefully earn enough to live. I clearly was not leadership material!

So how did a leadership reject like me end up starting a business that trains leaders?

It wasn’t a quick process. But over time, cracks started to show in my perspective on what being a leader looked like. One leader in particular challenged me, as he seemed quite normal. He would stand up in front of our church and be vulnerable about his frustrations and failures. I didn’t know leaders even made mistakes, let alone owned up to them!

This leader saw an ability in me to teach, called it out, and encouraged me in it. He gave up his own platform to let me speak. The first time, I was full of nerves and made a joke at his expense. Instead of cutting me down to size, he smiled, forgave me and kept believing in me. His approach didn’t look like leadership as I knew it. But I liked it!

Previously, I had split the world into two groups – leaders and followers. I knew I didn’t have what it took to be a leader, so that made me a follower. But then I met leaders… who followed. They talked about people who inspired them. They made it a priority to be influenced by others. They were secure being around others who were more experienced than they were. Simply put, they needed other people.

A dangerous question arose in my thinking: if leaders could follow, could followers lead?

Fast forward to today, and I stand in front of rooms of people training them how to become great leaders. I’ve come to realise there is a leader in me, and that everyone can lead in their own way. It’s the most freeing thing to stop trying to be someone else… and be yourself. To me leadership is vulnerable, authentic, diverse and littered with mistakes. It’s honest, challenging, rewarding and accessible. In short…

Leadership is for normal people like you and me.

My driving passion now is to see others realise their leadership potential. If you’re wondering if you qualify as a leader, here is quick checklist to find out:

  • Do you have a colleague at work who asks for your advice?
  • Do you have a friend who relies on your wisdom and practical help?
  • Do you have a child you are parenting?
  • Do you have influence with one other person?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, then congratulations on being a leader! Welcome to the elite club that includes everyone. From one leader to another, here’s a few recommendations: Embrace the leader within you, find someone further along to follow, and don’t try and imitate anyone else. The world needs you to lead like only you can!

Nick Laffan has personally trained and supported hundreds of individuals to become great leaders and empower others to do the same. His organisation, FreeRiver Consulting, works to transform culture and develop leadership potential in those who do not see themselves as ‘typical’ leaders.

He has recently launched the FreeRiver Leadership Academy, which provides online courses aimed at developing leaders – whatever their roles, backgrounds and experiences. For more information, visit www.freeriveracademy.com.

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