Can Anyone Be A Leader?

People often ask me, “Can anyone be a leader?” Or, a related question, “Is everyone a leader?”

The short answer to each is…yes and yes. When leadership is viewed in its simplest framework of influence, I believe that we are all leading in some capacity, whether we hold a title or not. Similarly, we are all following in some arena.

Some are skeptical, and I think their doubts usually fall into one of three categories.

  1. I don’t have a leadership position

In a prior piece for Lead Read Today, I examined the concept of informal leadership (leading without a formal authority) through the example of Joakim Noah and his experiences in college and professional basketball. We don’t have to have a position of leadership to, in fact, lead. Think of the people who have influenced your attitude or behavior - likely people in every spot of an organizational chart (above, beside and below you), or your children or a neighbor or …you get the point.

In fact, those who aren’t at the top of the organizational chart may have the most lasting impact. Ellen Belk of Keep In Mind, Inc, says, “Being an effective leader isn't always about being the loudest voice or the one with the highest rank. Those who lead by example through their actions and good deeds and their ability to gain forward momentum from the ground level, can often foster longer lasting and sustainable outcomes."

I agree.

  1. I don’t have the right leadership style or mentality

In the book The Mentor Leader, Tony Dungy and I explored this concept. Tony the coach is the same as Tony the parent, husband and friend – quiet, generous, given to teaching and guiding, not commanding. Not how most people envision a head coach. For those who said they didn’t think they could be a head coach, a principal, a department head, CEO or simply anyone wanting to influence, we were quick to point out that you don’t have to become anyone else. You’ll be most effective operating within your personality.

You don’t need to become somebody else to be a person of influence and leadership.

  1. I’m not in the right spot to lead

I’ve been thinking of this one lately after meeting Aaron Fish, currently a consultant in the Senior Living Industry with Trestle Hospitality Concepts, a boutique firm specializing in the hospitality aspects of senior living. Aaron spent two decades in various executive roles within the hospitality industry before starting his own firm, traveling the country to present and strategize.

Often, hospitality (food and beverage) is seen as a necessary service to provide, but not necessarily a breeding ground for leadership within the organization. That is, a sous chef might work their way up to head chef, but it’s rare they are seen as a candidate for, say, a regional sales director.

However, people in those positions should take heart in both the complexity (budgeting, operations, managing many different types of employees) and the central nature of their roles to find ways to influence even beyond their specific areas.

As Aaron points out, opportunities abound for those wanting to stretch beyond the common assumptions. By providing value to the residents, communicating well with staff, offering suggestions to management and assisting the marketing staff as they seek referrals from doctors or rehabilitation facilities, people in the hospitality pieces of this industry can find ways to influence – and lead – their organizations beyond what they might currently expect.

It doesn’t take long to come up with similar “dead end” paths in other industries. During my time in the National Football League, it was often the special teams coordinator as the offensive and defensive coordinators often seemed the better path to promotion. Or the purchasing departments in many companies (although supply chain is getting a lot more attention now!). You get the point.

Can anyone lead? Yes.

To me, the better question is, you’re leading (whether you know it or not), so what are you leading toward?


Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.