So, you're a leader? Let someone else say it

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Here’s a quick and easy guideline about trying to establish yourself as a leader: Never call yourself a leader. And never, ever call yourself a born leader.

I came across a website recently and, as best I could tell, the company designs websites.  Good for them.  But they seem to be a fairly new company and trying too hard to become known as a leader in that business. 

For example, one of the founders had this to say about himself:

“There are some people that spend a lot of time learning leadership. Well, I am different. I am the company’s born leader.”

 Another of the firm’s team described himself this way:

“I am a naturally born leader, thus, helping others in my own ways are pretty effective.” (Let’s not even deal with the mangled grammar at this point.)

 These are truly cringe-inducing self-descriptions.  First of all, arrogance is not attractive.  Saying that “I’m different” from “some people” in terms of leadership is code for, “I’m not like mere mortals.  I’m the Chosen One.”  If the idea of marketing one’s leadership is to engender respect or generate business opportunities, telling people how great you are will produce the exact opposite effect unless, maybe, your name is Kanye West.   

As best-selling author and management thinker Jim Collins said, “The x-factor of great leadership is not personality. It's humility." 

 Granted, you don’t have to be a crusty, old warhorse to be perceived as a leader.  But you must have some evidence of your leadership.  Self-aggrandizing words are not the same as proof of your “born leadership.”  Results must come first, before you can claim legitimate leadership.

 Take Mark Zuckerberg.  He created Facebook in his 20s and few would argue that he is not a leader in social media.  And it’s a sure bet that in various ways Zuckerberg is described as a leader by many people besides himself. 

 And that is the key to positioning yourself as a leader in anything.  First, accomplish something useful.  Do some good work.  Earn some recognition.  Then let others call you a leader. 

 LinkedIn, for example, is full of personal profiles that include endorsements by colleagues and customers.  These endorsements lend credibility to the idea that the person being endorsed is a leader because that person isn’t saying it; someone else is.  It’s the same for companies and brands – endorsements and testimonials from impressed customers and colleagues have immeasurably greater impact than self-descriptions like “I’m a natural born leader.” 

We’ll be a lot more likely to believe that when someone else says it.  In other words, there are no shortcuts to leadership.  And simply declaring oneself to be a leader is no more credible than declaring oneself to be a horse or the Empire State Building.

- Eric Whittington