How to become a leader


We shouldn’t ask what leadership is, but focus instead on how to become a leader. The best have four key attributes, says Vic Williams of the Audacious Training Company

For hundreds of years, leadership researchers and authors have been asking the wrong question. The focus has generally been on solving the impossible puzzle: what is leadership? But still there is no universally accepted, clearly defined answer.

The ‘what is’ question is linear and cannot account for the fact that leaders are often fallible, irrational and emotional people with unique perspectives, and random, often chaotic, thoughts. They could never be described as linear. We need therefore to change the focus and ditch the ‘what is leadership’ question for ‘how to become a leader’.

Changing this focus accommodates the multi-dimensional individuals who are required to lead in an ever-changing and complex environment. It allows for leaders to be flexible, adaptable and agile. Asking and answering the question of how to become a leader also provides the opportunity to dispense with another long asked and never answered question: are leaders born or developed?

Seen against this backdrop, leadership is no longer defined by a role, education, rank or title. Rather it is understood as a skill-set which can be learned and developed over time. It focuses on the individual becoming instead of doing.

The first level of great leadership, therefore, is self-leadership. Nelson Mandela said: “One of the most difficult things is not to change society, but to change yourself.”

Self-leadership is the skill of developing from the inside out. It is the art of understanding who you are, what you are capable of, what your capacity is and having a well-defined understanding of the impact and influence of your thoughts, words and actions. Self-leadership is about the discipline you put into daily action not only as a leader, but in every aspect of your life.

The vast majority of leaders I have researched, from Abraham Lincoln to Mandela, as well as the business leaders I have interviewed and worked with over the past 25 years, have consistently displayed four key disciplines. These have formed the foundation of their ability to lead.

The first is philosophy. This is your unique perspective on the world, the lens through which all things are filtered. These are the thoughts you have regarding everything you encounter and which determine your response, actions and reactions.

The second is an extension of the first. If you change your thoughts toward yourself, your job, the country, the business environment etc, you will change your attitude toward everything. If your thoughts are focused on the possibilities instead of the challenges, your attitude will be positive. And that will affect the third of these disciplines.

Action. The right thoughts or philosophy will determine your attitude to the action and ensure the possibilities become realities. The right philosophy will determine the right attitude, which will cause the right actions, leading to the fourth foundation – results.

Changing the way you think about everything will change your actions and, ultimately, deliver better results.

When you learn to lead yourself, you become purposeful and intentional, two key words for effective and audacious leadership. You will have answered the question – how to become a leader – yourself.

For more on how to become a leader

Visit the author’s website.

Vic Williams is a member of IoD South West (Devon & Cornwall branch)

About author

Vic Williams

Vic Williams

Vic Williams has more than 25 years’ experience in business and training and is the author of Audacious Leadership and founder of The Audacious Training Company, an international leadership and management training practice.

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