Leadership means many things to many people. When we think of great leaders, we often think of people who have accomplished great things. We think of of superstar athletes or titans of industry, of award-winning actors or prominent political figures. In other words, we look at the amount of talent or possessed by an individual and then say to ourselves, “That’s what it means to be a leader.”
There is another aspect of leadership, though, that is important to us—and I would argue that it is the foundation of what it means to really be a leader. And that is how we inspire others. Sure, talent and accomplishments can get us into the spotlight, but it takes a deep connection with our audience in order to stay there. We’ve seen many people we thought were greater leaders fall from grace because of the way they treat their audience. Athletes who prove to be poor role models lose fans. Controversial authors lose contracts. And, finally, business executives that don’t treat people well get replaced.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how much you know or how much you can do–if you can’t deal well with people, it’s all for naught. Why is that the case? Because, by its very definition, leadership requires followers. If people aren’t following you, it doesn’t matter what kind of title you put on your business card–you aren’t a leader. If you want to be a great leader, focus on developing relationships with those whom you are leading. You are a leader, not when you think you are, but rather when your people say you are. Inspiring your people is the cornerstone of leadership.