Field Notes

Don’t Wait for Someone to Call You a Leader

I graduated from business school over a decade ago, but recently I walked through the school’s doors for a meeting. I noticed teams huddled in small work rooms with one person dominating the conversation. When I walked past the finance lab, I saw students helping each other with the technology. And, as I waited in line at the café, I saw two students working together in silence, occasionally engaging in dialogue about the material they were studying. Leadership can look differently in the eye of the beholder.

As an alumnus, I was connected with an undergraduate student to help mentor and provide guidance during her junior year. With my coffee, I sat down to have a conversation. We exchanged stories of life in business school and talked about the things that are rooted in the university’s culture. Because she was fine tuning her resume, applying for summer internships, and practicing mock interviews, I asked what was on her mind. She responded with a familiar sentiment.

“I have a great GPA and I’m interested in the material. I find balance between my extracurriculars and school, but I don’t hold any formal leadership positions. I give back to the community and I’m conscientious of being a team player to help everyone succeed. Since I’m not captain or president of any clubs or sororities, I don’t know how to demonstrate my leaderships skills to potential employers.”

I asked about how she inspires and motivates others, how she provides and receives feedback, and the type of behaviors she demonstrates daily. We often forget that leadership is more than the loudest voice in the room.

I leaned in and asked, “How will you practice your leadership behaviors going forward?”

Sure, you can read articles, such as 7 Tips to Becoming a Better Leader. You can take a psychological assessment, like Myers-Briggs. You can read leadership articles on Forbes or take a course on managing others. But while it might be a prerequisite to understand yourself, leadership takes a true dedication to understanding, observing, and practicing those leadership behaviors.

As we ended our conversation, she asked, “When did you become a leader?”

Just like when I became a runner after dedicating myself to a training plan, my leadership did not begin until I created a routine of practice. You become a leader by intentionally practicing.

We may not all have a specific leadership title in our day-to-day, but we all can become a leader. We can step into this role with our families, communities, at school, or at work by practicing behavioral leadership consistently.

Aristotle said, “We become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.” Similarly, we can become an Admired Leader® by performing actions and behaviors of Admired Leadership. We are always leading in some ways, but practice is the path to becoming a better leader.  

-NO