Ok folks, leadership is not the adult version of a participation trophy – but everyone is a leader. Here’s a Venn diagram* to prove it:

*They say 62% of all stats (and associated charts) are made up, but we sincerely believe this one is true.

Everyone is a leader. Not everyone has a leadership position or title (and many folks need to work on their leadership skills), but everyone should recognize their own role as a leader be it in a boardroom, a locker room, a classroom or their own living room.

You might be thinking: Hold on just a minute, I’m just trying to lead my coffee (or tea or kombucha, whatever) to my mouth without spillage. Fair point, but hear us out…

What is a leader

There are hundreds (maybe thousands… it seems like an awful lot) of leadership books, blogs and podcasts out there. And there are nearly as many definitions of a leader, but they seem to focus on three parts.

A leader is a human who…

Let’s run some obvious leadership positions through that line of thinking and see if it holds up.

  • An owner of a large bakery is in charge of managing (guiding) the employees to bake and deliver (actions) their products in order to hit their annual financial targets and “connect people one pastry at a time” (goal and vision).
  • A high school science teacher instructs, inspires, or cajoles (guiding) students to master (action) the scientific process in experiments (objectives).

A couple more maybe less obvious:

  • A player on a soccer team encourages (guiding) their teammates to push themselves at practice (actions) to improve their skills to win more games (goal – literally and figuratively).
  • A parent encourages their college-aged student (guiding) to revise their resume (actions) to improve their chances of landing a summer internship (goal) to set themselves up for job opportunities after graduation (bigger goal/vision).
  • A college student is inspired (guiding) to research and network with people who have roles that they aspire to (actions) in order to find a job in their chosen field of study (vision).

So then a leader is anyone who has a vision or goal and understands a path to accomplish that goal and has the ability to influence whether or not it happens. In that case, if you have a goal/dream (no matter how big or small) and a plan for your future (even if that is just getting to work on time), then taking those steps to make it happen means you are a leader.

As we like to say: Leadership is life.

We subtitled our book Lead It Like Lasso with A Leadership Book for Life. Your Life. Our intent was to help everyone understand that they need to learn to lead themselves in order to lead others. And the same things that make a good leader will help individuals to level up and succeed. Or as Ted Lasso says: It is not about the wins and losses, it is about helping everyone become the best version of themselves.

The first step in making that happen is for everyone to recognize their own role in leading their own life. Here’s a quick excerpt from our book to demonstrate the point:

There are no NPCs (non-player characters)

NPC is an acronym originating from the world of gaming, referring to characters that are controlled by the game’s artificial intelligence rather than by a human player. They serve various roles within the gaming environment, from providing information to offering challenges or interactions for the player-controlled character.

In the broader context of leadership and teamwork, the term has been humorously borrowed to emphasize the importance of recognizing every individual’s unique contributions and potential for innovation within an organization.

This theme challenges the notion that some individuals are merely background char­acters, asserting that everyone has the potential to shape their own destiny (and become the best versions of themselves). Everyone is the lead character in their own life!

Free Guy is a movie that catapults us into the bustling metropolis of Free City, a virtual realm teeming with players and non-player characters (NPCs). At the heart of this tale is Guy (played by Ryan Reynolds), an NPC who, through a series of extraordinary events, discovers his own agency. He transforms from a passive background character to an active participant in his own story.

This transformation is a testament to the idea that no one is bound by a predetermined role. Just as Guy defied expectations and asserted his autonomy, so too can individuals in real life seize the reins of their own narratives. The film serves as a powerful reminder that each person possesses the potential to be a protagonist – not just a supporting player – in their own life story.

Free Guy underscores the profound impact that belief, encouragement, and opportunity can have on an individual’s journey. They challenge the notion that some people are destined to be secondary characters, asserting that everyone has the power to shape their own narrative.

Each of us, with the right support and mindset, is the leader of our own story.

Now that we have led you to the conclusion that everyone is a leader, we should consider what to do about it.

Clearly not everyone has a leadership role – and just as importantly, everyone doesn’t want one. And thank goodness because:

  1. Too many cooks spoil the broth
  2. The best version of you might be an amazing musician, artist, soccer player, salesperson, coach, electrician, contractor, engineer… and might not have any interest in being a band manager, sales manager, business owner or CEO.

Too many cooks spoil the broth

In leadership books, you will often see the statement, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. So if everyone in a company was in charge of making priorities (and the associated decisions), chaos and turmoil would reign supreme. So while everyone is a leader, everyone needs to understand their role in each specific setting. You might work for a manager at your job but are a single parent at home.

But in each role, you are responsible for understanding the goal, the plan and the actions to get there.

Now a great leader will make sure to get buy-in (and input) from everyone in an organization to ensure that they are focused on the right priorities/activities for the right reasons, but we will save that in depth discussion for another post.

Manager and/or Leader

Hopefully we have proven the point that leading is a way of being. That said, both management and leadership have specific roles in companies – but they are not the same. Now we will look at leadership as a role as it is very different from management as a position.

While people in leadership positions are inspiring and creating visions, goals and strategic plans, managers focus on systems, processes and accounting for those plans. Here are some traits that each would need to be successful.

ManagerLeader
Task orientedVisionary
Aims for controlAims to inspire
Appreciates stabilityRisk taker
TransactionalTransformative
Short-term goalsLong-term focus

All of that said, a manager who has leadership qualities such as the ability to inspire and share the vision for the long term will be a much better manager than someone who simply focuses on task completion. Similarly if a visionary leader is also responsible for the accountability of seeing their vision through to the end, they would need the skills of a manager.

Based on skills alone, it is easy to see why someone could excel at their job and not make the best manager of others in those roles. As you envision leveling up to a better version of you, it is important to consider if you need and want to build those skills or if leveling up would put you on another path.

More and more businesses today are rethinking what leadership and management look like as technology has given individuals more independence to focus on their strengths and recognize that traditional leadership roles are changing.

And as individuals focus on leading themselves this will continue to change the landscape of work. So as you consider for yourself how you want to lead, it is important to visualize the leader you want to be. Think about the practical skills that you might need but also the soft skills (or character traits) that will help you get there.

Counter examples

And for every example of great leadership that you can imagine, you often learn more from counter-examples.

Let’s look at toddlers. They definitely can have a goal (often involves getting a snack). They see a path to get there (it usually involves climbing on a piece of furniture). They take action. Now there is a leader that can make any parent a little panicked.

Class clowns and bullies both know what they want (escape a boring class or attention or power) and create a plan to make it happen. Not great for those around them.

In all three cases, the common thread is a lack of consideration for others, an absence of empathy, and behaviors that undermine healthy relationships within a group. So while they are leaders, they need (most likely) another leader (a parent, a teacher, a peer) to help come up with different strategies (or maybe different objectives altogether).

I remember when I was in the school system, the head of instruction said: sometimes acting out is an act of sanity. The class clown was really just trying to save the class. But the path to get there was not appropriate.

Why it is important to understand that you are a leader

Today automation and technological advancements are reshaping the way of work. A character revolution is emerging, emphasizing the importance of leading oneself. So the ability to guide and navigate one’s own actions, decisions, and personal development becomes a crucial leadership skill.

As automation takes over routine tasks, individuals who can effectively lead themselves through adaptability, continuous learning, and resilience stand out. Leading oneself involves cultivating qualities such as self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and a growth mindset.

Those who can harness their inner leadership capabilities not only remain relevant but also contribute to the broader character revolution. They pave the way for a workforce that excels in human-centric skills and values. Humans, FTW! The essence lies in recognizing that leadership begins with self-mastery, a foundational skill in the evolving landscape of automation.

So away we go! Character revolution – party of one – full steam ahead!

Things to consider 

Whether you are a leader of others or potentially interviewing for your first job, here are some questions that you might ask yourself to broaden your perspective of leadership.

  1. How can recognizing everyone as a leader reshape our approach to collaboration in the workplace?
  2. In what ways does the concept of “everyone is a leader” challenge traditional hierarchical structures?
  3. Can you share a personal anecdote where someone in a non-leadership role displayed extraordinary leadership qualities?
  4. How might acknowledging everyone as a leader impact employee engagement and job satisfaction?
  5. In what industries or sectors is the idea of “everyone is a leader” particularly transformative?
  6. How does the character revolution intersect with the notion that leadership is not confined to a title?
  7. How does self-leadership contribute to overall team and organizational success?
  8. What potential challenges or misconceptions might arise when promoting the idea that everyone is a leader?

There is certainly an entire internet of education and conversation around leadership. Here are a few of the quotes that really resonated with us:

  • “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” – Warren Bennis
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  • “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell
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  • “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” – John C. Maxwell
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  • “Leadership is not about being the best. It is about making others (and ourselves) better.” – Unknown

We would love to hear your thoughts on your own journey as a leader regardless of how far down the path you are. Want to read more about everyday leadership (and pick up some puns, strategies and inspiring quotes and Venn diagrams along the way), then follow along as we learn to Lead It Like Lasso!