Anyone Can Be A Leader

By Larry G Hoelscher, Partner & Bob Chapman, PhD, Managing Partner of KingChapman

Leadership is the starting point for strategy, execution and transformation. Building a cadre or core of leaders is a critical success factor. Yet too often leadership is thought to be exercised only by executives and a few other chosen individuals. We say that is not only wrong, but it robs organizations of a most precious resource for executing strategic change and transformation. How then does this mistake keep occurring?

Where to Start?

The place to begin is by expanding one’s view of leadership beyond the narrow views that…

  • Leadership is the “private reserve” of executives and senior managers
  • Leadership is done by people in management and supervisory positions
  • Leadership and management are the same thing

As we have worked with clients around the world for decades, we continue to hear some if not all of these assertions. A most common expression is that leadership is performed by executives or “those people on top”. When employees are asked “What are the things these executives do that show leadership”, we most often here “I don’t know”. In most challenging settings the “I don’t know” is often followed by “not much given the shape we are in”.

It is very common to hear that “our leaders are our managers and supervisors”. Again, when employees are asked what this means, the most common answers have to do with management roles performed by this individual. This includes:

  • Forecasting
  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Commanding
  • Coordinating
  • Controlling

Each of these are important functions of management, yet this is not leadership.

Leadership is Different from Management

We have written a number of blogs and articles on the differences between management and leadership. For the purposes of this article, we would like to paraphrase John Kotter from one of his videos “The Key Differences Between Leading and Managing”:

“Management is fundamentally a set of processes, most core of which are planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving. Leadership is a set of processes involving creating a vision of the future and strategies to get there, communicating out to people in a way that gets them to buy in to the vision and strategies, creating an environment that motivates those people, and inspiring the people to want to make the vision a reality.”

By distinguishing between Management and Leadership, it becomes clear that Management occurs as a result of the business structure, and the people in management roles are designated to manage a group of people, functions, etc. It also becomes clear that leadership is not the result of any structure or function, or even of the level someone happens to be in on the organization chart. Instead, leadership can be seen by the inspired actions of others, and with this concept in mind, anyone can be doing their jobs and having a positive and inspiring impact on others around them – that is, being leaders.

Accepting the fundamental differences between Management and Leadership, we are making the following assertions:

  • First – that anyone can be a leader
  • Second – if employees are being leaders, they have a greater sense of commitment to delivering the outcomes of the business, have greater effectiveness, have more ownership of why they are doing the things they are charged to do, and have a greater sense of their impact on others around them
  • Third – if employees are operating as leaders, they will perform in ways that create greater value to the organization

For executives of any organization to desire a fully engaged workforce, they must commit to doing the things necessary to generate this kind of inspired and generative group of employees. If the executives are creating this kind of environment, there are a few fundamental distinctions we have found that are necessary for employees to fully embrace the full power of “Anyone Can Be a Leader”.

How Can Anyone in an Organization Be a Leader?

There are fundamentally 3 steps in creating the kind of engagement demonstrated by a workforce of leaders:

1.  Commitment to Being a Leader

Commitment to being a leader comes in two parts:

  1. The executives of the organization commit themselves to creating this kind of environment
  2. Each employee commits themselves to think and behave as a leader in the business

2. Ownership / Accountability

3. Communication

Commitment to Being a Leader

The first step in getting everyone engaged as a leader is for the executive(s) to make a clear and public commitment to this concept. When people are empowered to demonstrate their leadership in the organization while doing their jobs, their engagement levels in executing the vision and strategies of the organization goes “sky high”. It is essential that the senior executives are fostering this kind of mindset and behavior from everyone in the organization, and that examples of “being a leader” are recognized and appreciated.

For everyone in the organization, their first step is similar – they must decide that they are going to be a leader in the organization. This decision is a personal choice, that once made, unleashes their creativity, spirit, energy – all the good stuff that are demonstrations of a highly engaged workforce.


Any leader in the business must be fully aware of the OUTCOMES for which they are accountable. With this awareness, committing themselves to deliver the outcomes in a way that is inspiring to others. Let’s look at some definitions:

  1. One with an interest in and often dominion over property
  2. One with the right to exclusive use, control, or possession of property

With this kind of ownership, leaders’ passion to deliver results is immediately apparent. One motto that we suggest the leaders plant in their heads: “Good excuses do not equal results!”. Leaders’ ownership and accountability for delivering the business results, and ownership and accountability of HOW they deliver results, are powerful indicators of being an inspiring leader.


For this concept of “anyone can be a leader” to work, an increase in communication by each leader is essential. A significant increase in:

  • Communication up (to supervisors, managers, execs),
  • Communication laterally (to peers and co-workers), and
  • Communication down (to others on teams, in the organization, suppliers, contractors, customers)

This heightened level of communication elevates each of the leaders to be aware of how they fit into the big picture, with a commitment to keep the other parts of the organization aware of their status, issues, breakdowns, etc – so that more leaders are involved to maximize success.

An interesting analogy on how this plays out can be found in any team sport. Let’s use American football:

Imagine a college football team, the offensive unit, and further that one of the offensive linemen sprains his ankle. Whose problem is that player’s sprained ankle?

Clearly, it is the player’s problem. After all, it is his ankle.

However, his sprained ankle is also the team’s problem. Because now, the team does not have one player at 100% capacity.

The main job of the injured player? Communicate their problem with the team, so that the team can figure out how to execute and work around the injured player. Or the communication could result in the player being replaced by another player. Etc.

The point – the offensive lineman is demonstrating his leadership by being accountable for the success of his position, and is communicating to the team so that future plays can be adjusted to take into account the injured player.

Anyone Can Be a Leader

“Anyone Can Be a Leader” is absolutely true! We see it all the time with our clients. The value created by people not in management positions is amazing. Some of the most powerful breakthroughs and growth stories occur because of leadership from nonmanagers. Further, committing to making anyone and everyone in the organization a leader is among the most powerful interventions to increase engagement than any we have seen. It is well worth the time and effort to foster this level of engagement!


If you want to learn more about what characteristics and roles leadership plays in the success of any organization, download our whitepaper: ‘Successful Strategic Execution Begins With Leaders’.

In it, you will learn:

  • The two hallmarks of an effective leader
  • The most crucial value for leaders to possess
  • The greatest contribution a leader provides
  • The most valuable ‘tool’ for a leader to wield

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