An Open Letter to Would-Be Leaders

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Leadership doesn’t begin when you get the job.

Whether you aspire to lead a department, a sports team, a company, or a country, if you think that leadership begins once you get the job, you’ve got the equation backwards.

“Put me in charge, and I’ll show you what real leadership is!”

Nope. Show me what real leadership is, and maybe I’ll put you in charge. Show me that I can trust you with my department, my sports team, my company, my country. Don’t tell me what a great leader you’re going to be. Just start leading.

Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not in November.



#Leadership doesn’t begin when you get the job. Click To Tweet

My friend and fellow speaker Mark Sanborn wrote a book called You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere, Can Make a Positive Difference. He’s right. There are plenty of leaders who don’t have an official leader/supervisor/manager/boss title. They’re all around; I’m sure you know many such leaders. We often call them by different titles: teacher, mentor, parent, coach. But they can also be Don, the barber; Faakhira, who works at the bank; Laurie, who lives two doors down the street.

They practice leadership every day, in ways large and small.

That’s a trait that is sadly lacking in many people today — including some who aspire to leadership positions.

For the record:

  • Inciting people to anger is not leadership. It’s demagoguery.
  • Name-calling is not leadership. It’s immaturity.
  • Rumormongering is not leadership. It’s dishonesty.

The unfortunate thing is that these behaviors — and others like them — can be effective. They can create a following. But is “creating a following” the same as leadership?

I don’t think so.

Leadership — real leadership — is about giving people a sense of purpose, not just making them mad.

Real leadership is about encouraging people to work together towards a common goal, not sewing the seeds of enmity and distrust.

Real leadership is about appealing to people’s better selves, not their darker demons.

Real #leadership is about appealing to people’s better selves. Click To Tweet

Look, the world is a complicated place. The world of business, the world of education, the world of politics. It’s complicated, it’s messy, it’s difficult. And it requires real leadership — all of it.

The world is a complicated place. It requires real #leadership. Click To Tweet

Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not in November.


So to all of you who aspire to leadership — any kind of leadership. Stop waiting for the title. Stop waiting for the job offer. If everyone around you is acting like children, don’t just be the loudest child. Be the grownup. The world needs grownups.

Just start leading.

#Leadership isn't about being the loudest child in the room. It's about being the grownup in the room. Click To Tweet

About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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