Many say leaders are made, not born. But Sharif Khan, the author of Psychology of the Hero Soul, an inspirational book on awakening the hero within and developing people’s leadership potential, believes we are all natural born leaders, who have been deprogrammed along the way.
“As children, we were natural leaders – curious and humble, always hungry and thirsty for knowledge, with an incredibly vivid imagination; we knew exactly what we wanted, were persistent and determined in getting what we wanted, and could motivate, inspire and influence everyone around us to help us in accomplishing our mission,” he says.
But, as we grow older, life de-programmes our natural leadership skills. We get used to hearing, “Don’t do this. Don’t do that. You can’t do this. You can’t do that. No.”
He says the traditional educational system doesn’t teach students how to become leaders. It teaches them how to become polite order-takers for the corporate world.
“Instead of learning to become creative, independent, self-reliant and think for themselves, most people learn how to obey and intelligently follow rules to keep the corporate machine humming.”
Based on more than ten years research in human development and leadership, Khan outlines ten easy steps you can take to awaken the leader in you:
- Be humble
To be a successful leader, you must first humble yourself like a little child and be willing to serve others.
Nobody wants to follow someone who is arrogant. Be as humble as a child, always curious, hungry and thirsty for knowledge. For what is excellence but knowledge plus knowledge plus knowledge? Always strive to better yourself, always improve, always grow.
When you are humble, you become genuinely interested in people, because you want to learn from them. And because you want to learn and grow, you will be a far more effective listener.
When people sense you are genuinely interested in them and listening to them, they will naturally be interested in you and listen to what you have to say.
- SWOT yourself
SWOT is an acronym for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats”. Although it is a strategic management tool taught at business schools and used by large multinationals, it can just as effectively be used in your own professional development as a leader. It is a useful key to gain access to self-knowledge, self-remembering and self-honouring.
Start by listing all your strengths, including your accomplishments. Then write down all your weaknesses and what needs to be improved.
Make sure to include any doubts, anxieties, fears and worries that you may have. These are the demons and dragons guarding the door to your inner attic. By bringing them to conscious awareness you can begin to slay them.
Then list all the opportunities you see available to you for using your strengths. Write down all the threats or obstacles that are currently blocking you or that you think you will encounter along the way to achieving your dreams.
- Follow your bliss
Regardless of how busy you are, always take time to do what you love doing.
When you pursue your passions, people around you cannot help but feel impassioned by your presence. This will make you a charismatic leader.
Whatever it is that you enjoy doing – whether it is writing, acting, painting, drawing, photography, sports, reading, dancing, networking or working on entrepreneurial ventures – set aside two or three hours a day to pursue these activities.
You’ll find the time. If you recorded yourself for a day, you would be surprised to see how much time you waste.
- Dream big
If you want to be larger than life, you need a larger than life dream.
Small dreams won’t serve you or anyone else. It takes the same amount of time to dream small than it does to dream big.
Write down your one biggest dream – the one that excites you the most.
Remember, don’t be small and realistic; be bold and unrealistic. Go for the gold, the Pulitzer, the Nobel, the Oscar, the highest you can possibly achieve in your field.
After writing down your dream, list every reason why you can achieve your dream instead of worrying about why you can’t.
If you can’t see yourself winning that award and feel the tears of triumph streaming down your face, it’s unlikely you will be able to lead yourself or others to victory.
Visualise what it would be like to accomplish your dream. See it, smell it, taste it, hear it, feel it in your gut.
Victory belongs to those who want it the most and stay in it the longest.
Now that you have a dream, make sure you take consistent action every day. I recommend doing at least five things every day that will move you closer to your dream.
- Be true to your word
Every time you break your word, you lose power. Successful leaders keep their word and their promises. You can accumulate all the toys and riches in the world, but you only have one reputation in life. Your word is gold. Honour it.
- Get a mentor
Find yourself a mentor, preferably someone who has already achieved a high degree of success in your field. Don’t be afraid to ask. You’ve got nothing to lose.
Study the autobiographies of the leaders you admire. Learn everything you can from their lives and model some of their successful behaviour.
- Be yourself
Use your relationships with your mentors and your research on great leaders as models or reference points to work from, but never copy or imitate them like a parrot.
Everyone has a very different leadership style. History books are filled with leaders who are soft-spoken, introverted and quiet, all the way to the other extreme of being outspoken, extroverted and loud, and everything in between.
Be yourself, your best self, always competing against yourself and bettering yourself, and you will become a first rate you instead of a second-rate somebody else.
Leaders are givers. By giving, you activate a universal law: life gives to the giver and takes from the taker. The more you give, the more you get.
If you want more love, respect, support and compassion, give love, give respect, give support and give compassion.
Be a mentor to others. Give back to your community.
As a leader, the only way to get what you want is by helping enough people get what they want first.
Useful resources: GIBS