What Makes A Leader?

Everyone asks this at one point or another in their life. What makes a leader? Am I able to be a leader?

The answer? It’s a resounding YES!

However, it’s not easy. It’s going to require a lot. You’ll face challenges that you’ve never faced and never wanted to see.

Those challenges are what makes a leader.

During my time at Catalyst East, Andy Stanley gave a talk on what makes a leader. I’m going to break it down for you and share my insights from this talk.

Your Responses

For every situation we face, we have a reaction. Positive, negative, indifferent, etc..

Your responses are what makes you a leader.

If you respond poorly to a situation your leadership could be called into question. Respond positively and others will have a more favorable view of you.

There are three areas that your responses will really determines whether or not you’re a leader.

Your responses to:

  • Unexpected Opportunities
  • Unavoidable Adversity
  • Unquestionable Calling

will determine the type of leader you are.

Unexpected Opportunity

Throughout your life you’ll run into unexpected opportunities.

A new job opportunity. A move across the country. Or an opportunity to step up and lead.

These can come at you unexpectedly. How will you respond?

Choose to step into the opportunity and you’ll begin to find new ways to serve as a leader.

Unavoidable Adversity

Adversity will come at you hard as you’re on your way to become a leader. It’s a fact of life.

The further you go, the rougher the road may get. Once again, it’s how you respond to the unavoidable adversity that makes or breaks you as a leader.

I’m reminded of the story of the butterfly struggling to get out of it’s cocoon.

Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it.

The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.

One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.

The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.

At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!

The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!

As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.

            But neither happened!

The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.

            It never was able to fly…

As the boy tried to figure out what had gone wrong his mother took him to talk to a scientist from a local college. He learned that the butterfly was SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly.

Our adversity is like the butterfly trying to emerge from the cocoon. It strengthens us. It forms us. It molds our leadership.

Decide today that you’ll face your adversity rather than run from it.

Unquestionable Calling

The final response that makes is a leader is how you respond to your unquestionable calling.

It’s that burden you feel. The cause of pain in your life. The thing you want to rid the world of.

When you find what burdens you and makes you hurt for the world, you’ve found your calling.

You now have a choice of whether or not to respond.

Choose to follow your unquestionable calling and you’ll be one step closer to being a leader.

When you begin responding to these three areas you’ll begin to grow and develop as a leader. You need to respond to unexpected opportunity, unavoidable adversity, and unquestionable calling.

Question: Which of these three do you have a hard time responding to? Why? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Adversity – I don’t like conflict, so unavoidable adversity can drive me crazy.  Learning to understand that it’s an opportunity for growth helps to shift my attitude and willingness to deal with the adverse situation.  “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.”  Right?!

    •  I feel you Jon. Sometimes the adversity that comes against us can create conflict that’s overwhelming. And yet we need the conflict we face to grow and become a better leader.

      • Work through the pain and discomfort…it’s worth it in the end!

  • I agree with Jon about adversity.  However as I grow I’m learning ways to operate that are much less likely to produce adversity.  We can discover ways to communicate, even with the most difficult people, that reduces conflict.  It will never go away completely, but we can reduce it through communication.

    • Great point Dan. We can reduce some of the communication adversity when we learn better ways to communicate and deal with people. Though there will still be other situations and reasons for adversity. Maybe a tough project that just didn’t go right or the little situations in life that arise that are frustrating.

  • Hey Joe, I added you to my new “bloglinks” page under “my picks” on my site http://www.danerickson.net 

    • Awesome. Thanks for sharing my page on your site.

    • Dan, I just added you to my Google Reader.  Thanks for the link.  I look forward to reading your writing.

      • You’re welcome.  I’ll be adding you to my bloglinks page presently.

  • #1 and #3 are cool by me, but #2…why? Why must I suffer to come out stronger? 

    I know intellectually that adversity makes me stronger. Doesn’t mean I remember that then or enjoy it when it’s happening.

    • Right Matt! It’s not always fun to struggle or suffer. There’s times it feels like it’s killing us. Yet, like exercising, if we don’t use and hurt certain muscles they’ll never develop. 

  • DS

    I think I struggle with the unquestionable calling and having the faith to jump out.  I have a certain life passions that I would love to pursue, but still have a fear of failure and a “how do I do it?” question rattling around my mind.

    I know that there is a point that I need to quit thinking, and start doing.

    • Don’t let the fear stop you DS. You’ll never know “how to do it” until you begin trying it and finding out how your life passions work. Be like a child learning to walk. Try to take a step. Fall down. Get back up and try it again until it works.