What makes a leader a leader? I mean: which is the crucial element that qualifies a person as a leader? I think that the word itself can help: leader is someone who leads. “It’s a tautology!” you would say and you’d be right. But let’s make one step ahead.
When we say that a leader is someone who leads, we are implicitly recognizing that “leader” is a “relational” word, exactly like father or teacher. To be a father you should have a son; to be a teacher you should have students. Nobody can be a father if he has no child. We could say that a father comes into the world together with his son: neither a second earlier, nor a second later. They got born together.
The same is valid for a leader: being a leader means having some followers. Full stop. It has nothing to do with having a roles, using the power, having nice and elegant rooms with good furniture. If you have power on others, if you can take decisions which impacts the life of many people, you can be a manager, a boss or an executive but being a leader is something completing different. A leader is someone who deserves to be followed; he is a person who is so inspiring that we feel confident to pursue his steps and his decisions, not because we have to, but because we want to.
Being a leader is something that nobody can impose: you can’t nominate or appoint someone as a leader. Sure, you can give him power and a role but the leadership is something that you conquer on the battle field and it is a quality that only others could identify in you.
What encourages us to follow someone? Why do we decide that one deserves our admiration and someone else no? Usually a leader is a smart person, a sensitive human being, sympathetic and emphatic, with clear ideas in his mind and a strong determination to follow them. However I don’t think these are the real reasons why we decide to elect someone as a leader. I guess that it has more to do with the fact that a leader “believes in what we believe” (S. Sinek). We follow a leader because we recognize that his convictions and his faith are so close to ours.
Being a leader is a matter of embodying values, ideals, goals, a view on the world and the will to change it; and being so coherent and authentic that you can inspire others to embrace the same vision and the same objectives. A leader is someone who invites others to believe in what he believes, not because they have to, but because this is could make them better human beings.