Great Leaders Don’t Set Out to Be a Leader

– Lisa Haisha

I spent my early years pursuing a military career. It wasn’t because I liked war; quite the contrary. I wanted to make a difference by serving my country. Without exception, the other military personnel I met and worked with had the same sense of purpose. They never wanted to GO to war, but they not afraid of the potential outcome should a war develop.

The Servant Leader

Since its inception, the servant leadership movement has been growing. Being a Servant Leader flips the script on traditional organization theory. Instead of being a CEO at the top of the company pyramid with all the implications of power and authority, the true Servant Leader chooses to sit in that spot, but approach the job with a whole different mindset.

“The servant-leader is a servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.

Servant leaders worry about the growth of the people who report to them. They expect growth of the enterprise through the well-being of the people on the team. This is radically different from autocratic and benevolent dictator led organizations.

Servant leaders manage by asking questions like:

  • How are you doing (and mean it)?
  • What are the hurdles in your way?
  • What can I do to help?


Great leaders emerge from the dedicated effort to make a difference. As they go about their work, the sense of commitment, direction, and drive are recognized by those around them. Opportunities open up. Others begin to say “I want that person on my team”.

Why do you think it is that CEO’s with good records move across whole industries to take on new challenges? The proven skills that come from the commitment to make the difference become hot commodities.

New Managers

As a young, first-time manager, your primary focus should be to define the difference you can make. You may have been selected to be a unit manager without ever first wanting the job. Now that the role is yours, stop thinking about how to be a better manager and start thinking about the difference you can make for your team.

Leadership will emerge.

As you set about making the decisions needed to make the difference, your natural leadership tendencies will begin to take shape.

Day by day, your leadership skills will evolve. Experience will become your best teacher. When challenges arise (and they will), you can seek advice from those more senior, get a mentor or coach, and grow into the role.

Stay centered on the purpose of your role; the difference you can make.

I’ll show simple, common sense ways to build your management and leadership skill sets and grow your ability to make a difference.

Find a Coach or Mentor

For every new level in your career progression, you will need to grow into the role.  I firmly believe rising executives have a bit of fear in knowing they need something more to fit a new role they’ve been given.

Few are the leaders who find an easy fit in a new role.

If you are wondering how best to achieve the growth you need, consider enlisting a mentor or engaging with a leadership coach. Find someone who has been there before. Consult with them to plot your personal growth into the next role.

As you find leadership responsibilities being heaped upon you, take pride in being given that opportunity.

Likely you said you wanted to make a difference. Now the chance is yours.


Doug Thorpe
Doug Thorpe
With 25+ years in executive leadership, Doug is a been-there-done-that kind of leader. He has senior management experience in all major sectors; the military, Fortune 500, entrepreneurial, and non-profit. He has also enjoyed success as an entrepreneur, building several companies and non-profits. Doug’s clients realized significant cost savings, more effective operations, and higher profitability by using his business expertise. Doug provides executive coaching and business consulting services for executives and owners seeking fresh ideas for development of C-suite talent, high potential leaders, and team development. His firm is Headway Executive Coaching. Doug is the author of The Uncommon Commodity.

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  1. There is much to applaud in these words, but I cannot embrace the basic premise.

    I went to a military academy. Every cadet in my class knew we were being trained to be leaders. It did not creep up on us. There was nothing subtle about the calling. When we had a moment of silence in the mess hall because a grad had been killed in combat, you quickly learned the price of being a leader.

    The vast majority of us had made that decision — to pursue professional training to become a leader — long before we arrived. Men do not go to military schools with an idea to explore what they have to offer. The entrance procedure was competitive, we knew what we were getting into, and there was a war going on.

    That quibble does not ruin the impact of the words.

    There is no reason why any person should decry their desire to lead. Powerful examples in my life drove me to say, “Hey, I want to be like that guy.” One of them was my career military father who had won a battlefield commission in the mountains of Italy during WWII.

    Damn right I wanted to be a leader. I wanted to be like my father. It was a good focus.

    There is no reason for people to stand back and pretend that they only want to serve. It is not mutually exclusive nor is it something to be ashamed about.

    There is not a single worthwhile enterprise or undertaking that does not require effective leadership to achieve its goals.

    In one’s tutelage to become a leader, one also learns to be a good follower. There are times — many times — in which the most effective leadership is sitting quietly and cheering on the process going on in front of you. An effective leader focuses on both results and in developing the leadership skills of those he leads.

    Leadership is about getting things done. A lot of stuff gets done if nobody is vying for the credit. No leader really does it by himself. The credit always belongs to the team.


  2. Doug, Great article. It’s of great importance as you stress that leaders are not thinking themselves as leaders. They are believers in the people around them. There is a unique ability in all people…a true leader in my eyes helps find this gift and hones in on it. It is not something everyone can do. Only genuine people have this knack. They help turn on the switch so to speak and provide the fuel by which the energy emerges. It is such pleasure to them to see this growth and share in this pride. I really like everything you said here. To many of those in leadership roles forget what it means to others around them and think of their own flame. Without your people, there will soon be smoke. A leader is one who follows
    Thank you so much. It just supports my belief in what a leader should be
    Have a wonderful weekend. Sorry I wrote so much. Paula.

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