I Am Not a Leader (or So I Thought)

This is a guest post by Tammy Helfrich. She is a wife, mom, and writer. She currently works for a Fortune 500 company and helps customers implement new processes. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

“I don’t have a leader title.”

“I don’t have anyone who reports to me.”

“I don’t have experience leading people.”

Light Bulb Illustrating Leadership - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/shulz, Image #7320959

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/shulz

I used to say these things, as an excuse. I used to say I am not a leader. I used to believe I was not a leader.And do you know what happens when you believe that? You’re lying to yourself.

For most of my life, people had told me that I was a good example for others. But I didn’t always believe it. I often kept people at arm’s length. I didn’t allow them in. I didn’t want to get involved in their stories. That required work.

I have discovered over the years that even though I never wanted a leader title, I was a leader to my peers. I worked hard, and I had good relationships. I always did above and beyond what my job required. I got to know my leaders. I kept a positive attitude. I led by example.

In his book, The 360 Degree Leader, John Maxwell talks about the circle of influence you have. Sometimes people within the middle of an organization have more power than those with leadership titles.

I started paying attention to this. I started conversations with leaders at all levels of our organization. I didn’t have a hidden agenda. I simply wanted to learn and let them know I was with them—I believed in them. I wanted to learn from them.

John Maxwell says,

What matters is that we are willing to do what it takes, to make a positive impact wherever we find ourselves in life—to add value in any way we can to others.”

I believe we can all do this. We can be a leader, regardless of what our title says.

How can you be a leader? There are five tactics.

  1. Take ownership. Be responsible for your work. You own the work that you do. You own your processes. When you do this, people start to notice, and you can help lead others to do the same.
  2. Lead by example. Actions speak louder than words. Be the positive voice within your department, rather than the negative one. Encourage others to look at situations with a positive energy.
  3. Talk to leaders in your organization. Don’t expect anything in return. You will be amazed at how many leaders are willing to talk to you. Not only do they want to hear your ideas, but they are typically more than happy to share what has worked for them.
  4. Offer ideas, don’t just report a problem. Be sure to offer a solution. Many of the best solutions to a company’s challenges come from the middle of an organization. Why? Because these are the people who know what truly happens on a day-to-day basis. Leaders who are willing to listen can often create change with the right ideas and solutions.
  5. Encourage coworkers and leaders. Most people will encourage their coworkers. They work side-by-side with them. However, leaders rarely get encouragement, and it can get very lonely at the top. Showing them you care and you are with them really helps. I have been absolutely amazed at the positive responses I have had from leaders who took my encouragement to heart.

You are a leader. Believe you are a leader. Take a small step forward today. You will be amazed at what a difference it will make.

Question: How have you led—apart from your title? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • TC Spear

    We all lead, positively or not so encouragingly; it’s our choice.  I wonder if you’d agree extending the concept, to “we’re all in sales”, “we’re all marketers”?

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Great point, TC. I know people sometimes struggle with that. I am in sales, so I know that we are all selling and marketing, whether we realize it or not. I think we have so much more influence than we think we have.

  • http://www.shannonmilholland.blogspot.com Shannon Milholland

    Tammy, so excited to see you here! This is such an insightful post. I absolutely used to think I wasn’t a leader. Thanks to Michael and others I’m slowly but surely developing the leader within me!

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Thanks, Shannon. Michael has been a big influence on me as well.

  • http://walkwiththewise.wordpress.com/ Gail

    A friend was once in a leadership training course where they asked everyone to line up in the position they lead from – front, middle or back. Most people scrambled to the front as often people think this is the only place to lead from. In my experience, it’s the people who can lead from any place, and have the self control to NOT lead when required, that are the most powerful of all.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      That is a great point.

  • Modupeola Adisa

    Everyone is  a leader either in your family, home, school, church, workplace, society etc., but our leadership roles differ.  To the glory of God, I have led effectively in so many areas and places and till today I am still leading but we must bear in mind to lead as a servant leader by emulating Christ Jesus our Lord. 

    • http://www.NateAnglin.com/ Nate Anglin

       Amen Modupeola. It’s amazing to see the many forms leadership can take.  Many people don’t think leadership pertains to the family or home and just view it as a workplace or political skill.  They are sadly mistaken. Thank you for your word!

  • http://www.strategicplanningforgrowth.co.uk/ Jane Bromley

    Hi Tammy. I think your post is spot on. If only people in companies and in life generally realised the power they have to lead and inspire each one of us and businesses overall would be so much better for it. 

    It is so easy to see ourselves as powerless- to think that, until someone else does something, problems cannot be solved. The problem with that is that even at the top of companies few people are  really leading in the way you describe. 

    It is not hard though and feels so much better. I was once working for one of the largest IT hardware manufacturers. Sales were not as good as they could have been and I felt it was because we did not know enough about our customers. I stood my ground with my Manager and, after a few months, he said, “OK, then sort it”. I took a deep breath and gave him a startled look. Sorting the problem was really fun though. I learnt loads from my experience and the business did far better as a result!

    It would have been easy to avoid responsibility….. but both I and the company gained so much more because I took a lead in a way that was true to myself. 

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      That’s a great example, Jane!

  • http://twitter.com/JWPicker Jeremy Picker

    Thanks for this post Tammy.  I am a owner of a small business and find it hard to measure if I am being a good leader or not.  People always recognized the gift of leadership in me, but my own insecurities would always make me wonder why people would want to follow my lead.

    Once I stopped worrying about the things I couldn’t control and focused on my personal growth through taking risks, reading, and serving others, I discovered that leading just requires constant progression and seeing others as people and not objects.  Leadership is earned, not something that can be demanded.

    Leading from behind is not possible.  You have to constantly seek improvement and use self-reflection on a daily basis.

    The fun part is that being a leader is not a stationary thing, it requires constant movement to set the sail in the right direction for people to follow. 

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      That is great advice. I recently heard John Maxwell talking about how personal development has opened more doors in his life than anything else. Your focus on development is really good.

  • http://twitter.com/Gabz_Smith08 Gabrielle Smith

    These are all solid tactics, Tammy! I always believe leadership begins at home and as a parent of 4 lovely kids, I always do the best I can to be their role model  as I am the earliest and most influential influences on my children. 

    • http://www.livebeyondawesome.com/ Jen McDonough “The Iron Jen”

      Awesome guidelines, Tammy! I definitely agree with you Gabrielle that leadership must start at home. And as a mom of 4 God-given gifts too, I really try to serve as the best role model for my kids not only through direct interactions with them, but also through examples. By addressing their concerns, sharing their lives, and maintaining a constructive perspective, I believe I can help guide and mold them to be better individuals within the family and the outside world.

      • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

        Great advice. I think leading our kids well and teaching them to lead by example is so important.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      So true!

  • md1amond

    Great post.  Thanks.

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  • Tiffany Prysmiki

    Wow, I have been saying this for the last year now.  Still trying to figure out why I keep telling myself that:)  Something I’m working on.  This was perfect, thank you!

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      You are a leader, Tiffany! Believe it.

  • http://www.livenuplife.com/ LivenUpLife Author

    This is quite the same as with practically anything.
     You can think you aren’t something, and you surely will not be.
    And you can think you are something, and surely you will be that.
    The brilliance of thoughts is that consciously or subconsciously, they become your reality. :)

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      So true!

  • WilliamIV

    I use this more with my friends and associates than i realize.  A lot of times people say You told me something a year ago that I used to help me through a situation.  This always blesses me and gives me courage

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Our words are so powerful, aren’t they?

  • http://twitter.com/ChrisSmith_UK Chris Smith

    Nice summary Tammy. Leadership is not black and white, it is one of those skills that we all have – some do small leadership steps – just giving their children good advice, while others lead their organisation through huge transformations. But we all do it.

  • pedro Teca

    My name is Pedro Teca, 27 years old and Iam from angola, I really appreciated the topic and had learned alot: Iam working in a mechanical workshop where most of coworkers speak illof the company leadship and I realised that they also got some faults. I mean, they do not contribute positively in company development. so, I start to encourage them to have faith and work. We started organizing together the workshop, we clean it, we speak about safety fo accident prevention: I encourage them to study more. I do not get tired to advise them. I think we need tobe hardworking in doing so. Thank you Michael Hyatt Iam really your fan number 1.