The Big Difference Between Leadership and Being A Leader

I develop leaders. It’s easy to teach people a few skills that allow them to inspire and organize a group of people to move toward a common goal. It’s very difficult to develop leaders.

The difference is that leaders embody leadership mindsets and actions. It’s who you are as a person that makes you a leader. Doing leadership actions or holding a leadership position does not make you a leader.

Leadership and Being A Leader

Take a look at these examples of leadership versus being a leader and you’ll get the idea.

  • To cast vision is leadership. To be visionary is to be a leader.
  • To organize people toward an objective is leadership. To be influential is to be a leader.
  • To observe market trends is leadership. To anticipate change is to be a leader.
  • To step on stage and inspire others is leadership. To be inspirational is to be a leader.
  • To teach others the right things is leadership. To model how to determine right things is to be a leader.
  • To solve problems is leadership. To recognize opportunities is to be a leader.
  • To make decisions is leadership. To be a wise decision-maker is to be a leader.
  • To have an organizational role is leadership. To be have spiritual authority is to be a leader.

Notice the lack of reference to position. Where you land in the organizational chart has little to do with being a leader.

It would be great if only those who are leaders where placed in leadership positions, but that’s not what happens. You can lead without a position. Be a leader and work toward the desired result, people will join you.

“So,” You Ask, “How Do I Become A Leader?”

Leaders are developed through learning and practicing leadership behaviors. But behaviors alone are not enough. We need to connect those leadership practices to our mindset, attitudes, and values.

By reflecting on our leadership behaviors, we can spot the inconsistencies in our mindset that keeps us from being a leader. Usually this requires feedback from others, because we are blind to our own contradictions.

For example, a senior manager highlighted the positive, forward-moving features of new programs in her speeches. But in private, she consistently found flaws with most new programs. She saw herself as improving the programs, but others saw her as critical and resistant to change.

As she worked with a coach, she was able to understand how her mindset was sabotaging her development as a leader. Even though she “knew” how to be inspirational and forward-thinking, she needed to find ways to embody being a positive change-agent when not on stage.

Here are 3 questions to assist you in developing yourself and others as a leader:

  • In what area do you want grow as a leader? (Where your mindset and actions are misaligned.)
  • How could you practice this and receive feedback?
  • Who could help you in your development in this area?

Leadership skills can and should be taught. But don’t mistake leadership for being a leader. You are a leader as leadership flows out of who you are as a person. Work on aligning your mindset with the actions you want to live.

Question: What do you think? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    5 thoughts on “The Big Difference Between Leadership and Being A Leader

    1. Thought provoking, thanks Keith! I had never thought of leadership in this way before. True that there are “dime a dozen” leadership behaviours/actions that are inherited with position. But to have real leadership mindset seems to be quite rare in the business world and the few leaders that exhibit this really stand out – they become the mentors and coaches that make a sustained tangible difference in the lives of their followers. Any manager can learn leadership behaviours on demand, only real leaders have the inherent mindset as well. Followers know the difference although they might not be able to articulate this as clearly as you have done!

      • Gavin, as you said, we can DO leadership actions, but WHO we are will eventually trump those actions. Real leader development is about changing mindsets, growing character, adjusting values, reforming our inner selves spiritually, because our behaviors cannot long outshine who we are as a person. To look at it another way, true leaders are at ease with leadership behaviors because those actions flows out of who they are as people.

    2. well said…very thought-provoking. Thanks for this leadership vs leader post. I appreciate the focus on mindset and heart posture as the central developmental focus – spot on!