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What does it mean to be a leader?

When you hear the word “leader” what do you think of? Is it someone in a suit who commands respect? Is it someone with a fancy title, a nice car, and tons of money? From the outside looking in, it’s easy to assume that leadership is nothing more than a title and some nice perks. After all, how many jerks do you know who are managers? I’m here to tell you, though, that leaders defined by their knowledge.

And no, I’m not talking about technical knowledge. I’ve met plenty of people who know everything there is to know about their subject of interest, but are truly terrible leaders. They make people feel inferior or they lack “common sense” and can’t see the limitations of what they’re asking. No, what I’m saying is that leaders are defined by their knowledge of the human experience. Leaders are students people. Emotional intelligence, public speaking, and strategic planning are all essential leadership qualities that are only possible if you study your fellow people.

Of course, the most difficult person to study is yourself—but you’re also the most important person to study. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t come naturally to any of us to honestly evaluate our strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, self-reflection can even be downright painful, so many of us choose not to do it. If you don’t learn to examine yourself, though, you’ll find that your reign as leader is doomed from the start. You’ll fall into repetitive failures, and constant painful struggle. You’ll become bitter and blame everyone around you or the circumstances that you’re in. It can’t possibly be you, you hold the title of “leader” damnit!

Since your team is also unpracticed at honestly evaluating themselves, they’ll take your rants, insults, and insinuations to heart. They’ll quickly lose motivation and morale will disappear, never to be found again.

Employees won’t take it laying down forever, though. Eventually—after a lot of heartache and dealing with your bad attitude for far longer than they logically should—they’ll leave. Study after study shows that it’s rarely the job that forces people to quit, it’s their manager. So, there you are, left with staff members who have just watched their friends leave the business and are still suffering from the same low morale. You’ll hire new people who are excited for a new opportunity (that last job sucked) and the cycle will repeat.

The old staff will talk about how things never get fixed. How you say one thing and do another. They’ll tell the new hires why the other person left, and that they’re considering finding another job themselves. All because you haven’t learned from yourself. Until you do, it’ll continue this way.

Good leaders, on the other hand, reflect. They look at their lives and, instead of complaining, learn how to coach themselves. They learn how to lead themselves out of their negative attitudes. They learn how to motivate themselves when they don’t want to do something. They learn how to soothe themselves when things go wrong and they have to eat a slice of humble pie. Good leaders first learn to lead themselves. After all, if you can’t lead yourself, how can you expect anyone to follow you? It’s very important, however, to know that leading yourself doesn’t necessarily mean doing it by yourself. Remember, leaders are students of others, they will actively seek advice from people they respect.

So, what does it mean to be a good leader? Being a good leader means accepting responsibility for your life. Not just your immediate life either, but accepting responsibility for your personality flaws, for your negative quirks, and for your own unique flavor of neuroticism. Being a good leader means knowing what your limits are. When you accept responsibility for yourself, you’ll discover your limits and you’ll know what you are and are not capable of. That also means that good leaders will be continually learning. Learning what their new boundaries are; what has held them back in the past; how to overcome challenges; how to teach themselves…the opportunities for learning (and growth) are limitless.

Finally, being a good leader means having the humility to admit that you’re human and that you’re flawed, but that you’re working on it. It means being humble enough to know that you’ll never complete this journey. You’ll always be a student, you’ll always make mistakes, and it’s okay for other people to know that you’re learning–that you can lead them because of it.


Thank you for reading this far. I want you to know that this is the first article I’ve written on this site in quite some time, but I want to return to it in some fashion. I’ve been learning what my life means without the bar that I used to own and how working on myself also means working on my career.

That being said, I have more things to say, and ideas (which were presented here) that I want to expand on. I would be honored if you gave me a follow on Facebook at www.facebook.com/barkeepblog. Feel free to leave a comment if you want to have a conversation. I’d love to hear from you.

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4 thoughts on “What does it mean to be a leader? Leave a comment

  1. Excellent article about leadership, keep up the great work. If you want to know if you are a leader, look behind you to see who’s following. Become a volunteer organizer of a completely new venture where your current status won’t sway the volunteers into working for you. If you can convince new people to volunteer for your cause, you are on track to becoming a leader.

    Liked by 1 person

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