I hate to say it, but most business leadership books are absolute trash. Typically, they're oriented towards Fortune 500 companies and written by people who do not have a clue about how to lead one of the regular, everyday businesses that make up 99% of the business sphere. In this article, I'm going to tell you about the real secret of successful leadership – what you should be doing if you want to be a leader in your field.
Nowadays, it's the “in” thing to be a leader, and sure, there are certain things you can identify with those who claim leadership. But you have to wonder: why are people always talking about how to be a leader? Why are not they just out there leading by example, showing us instead of telling us?
Some people seem to think that everyone is capable of being a leader, or should be a leader. Well, here's a news flash: if everyone's a leader, then no one is. To be a leader, you need followers; and in any case, you can not have everyone occupying the same space in society. There's nothing wrong with being a leader, but you actually have to be out front to claim the title. You're never going to get anywhere if all you want to do is achieve income equality or a level playing field, which will not happen anyway. Utopian ideals do not mix well with business reality. If you want to distribute income and leadership equally, get out of business, because your competitors will eat you alive.
There must be and will be a leader in every environment and situation. Even when people start out entirely even, someone will take the lead. It's a natural law that some people will do better than others. Some will create wealth with the money they have, and leverage it into greater wealth. So what makes that person a leader? Well, a true leader is good at persuading people to do what they want them to do. They have something to say that makes people rally around them and give them their support, in the form of labor, social prestige, or money. This is true of secular, religious, and business leaders alike. Sometimes the leaders are benevolent; sometimes they're dictators.
If nothing else, business leaders have to convince people that their products or services are good deals for them. They can successfully pitch their product to an audience and get those people to respond.
The point is that when you think about leadership, do not think about some nondescript thing that people can not really quantify, and do not entertain any politically correct ideas about what qualifies someone to be a leader. You're a true leader only if you've learned to persuade people to follow you or to do what you want them to do. Jesus Christ was a true leader. Ronald Reagan was a true leader. So were Mao and even Hitler, because we do not like to bring him up in polite conversation. Some of these people were born with natural charisma; others developed it.
It's your duty as a marketer to use your creativity, inventiveness, and skills like public speaking and writing copy to enhance your leadership skills, whether or not you're a natural leader. This results in increased sales and profit, because you can persuade people to buy what you're offering. Learn to be a good persuader, and you'll find yourself more successful than you'd be if you followed any of those leadership books. They're a dime a dozen. Forget them. There's no question that great salespeople, great marketers and good copywriters are great leaders, because we persuade people to take action and buy our products. In fact, most leadership is about selling – even politics.
Back when Andrew Jackson was a general – before he became president – he had a great saying: “I lead, you follow, and everyone else gets the hell out of the way.” You have to take the reins, because no one will just give them to you. But let's be real here; most people are letting the business reins flop around loose. Dive on them and take charge of your market, especially when no one else will. Become the very definition of leadership for your market, and keep pushing that leadership in everyone's faces.
John Maxwell once defined leadership as influence, and I firmly believe that your ability to influence other people is what makes you a real leader. Lots of people think they're leaders, when no one is actually really following them. A specific position does not automatically translate into leadership. Leadership is not a title, whether the title is President or President of the United States. Yes, people who serve under you may do what you say when you order them to, but if you're not a true leader they will not follow you when you turn your back, and they may find ways to sabotage you. If you're a true leader, then you're influencing people, providing real value in their lives You're singing the song they want to hear, and they want to follow your lead.
Years ago I read another quote that went, “Good leaders are good followers.” When I first read it, I thought it was nonsense. How could a good leader be a good follower? But in the years since, I've given that quote a lot of thought, and I've seen the wisdom in it. A good leader understands his followers very, very well. There's a push and pull there. Good leaders know how to admit when they're wrong; they go to their followers and work with them, listening to what they have to say. And it's probably true today, as business leadership trends towards more of a one-to-one working relationship with the rank-and-file, where leadership supplies the vision and the rest of the team provides the strategy and execution. A good leader empowers his people.
The reason I know that most leadership books are crap is that I bought too many back in the 1990s; leadership was a very popular subject then. In most of those books, it's difficult to pin down what the author is even getting at, because everything is so homogenized. Toss those books away – or at least put them on the shelves to collect dust – and remember that true leadership is based on your ability to influence and persuade other people. This is a learnable skill that you can develop over time.