There’s a common misconception that only people with certain qualities and characteristics can be leaders: CEO’s, politicians, and managers that have the right genetic “ingredients” to take on these roles. This belief limits human potential by implying that only certain people have the power to make an impact—and it simply isn’t true.
Leadership is about influence, and we all have influence on the people and places we interact with, whether we realize it or not. In fact, sociologists estimate that even the most introverted of people influence around 10,000 other people in an average lifetime.
In other words, you are already a leader, no matter what resources you have or what job title you hold. Good leadership is embodied by owning your power, mobilizing resources, and making changes for the better—on any scale. It can be as simple as mentoring the new hire at work, bringing your neighbors together to improve road safety on your street, or fundraising for a cause you care about.
Here are five ways you can get clear on your goals and be a stronger leader in your everyday life, so you can make a positive impact at work and at home:
1. Get clear on your vision.
In order to know where to go next, you need to first know where you’re starting. Begin by zeroing in on a change or challenge you’d like to work on. If you aren’t sure where to start, think about where your interests and talents intersect: What are you passionate about? What are you good at? Find where your answers overlap and focus your attention there. Then, assess the situation: What are the potential risks and rewards of this particular idea? What resources will you need to get it done? What are the best- and worst-case outcomes? Taking an honest look at both the current reality and future potential of the situation will help you clarify your vision and determine your next step.
2. Find support—but embrace disagreement.
It’s easy to consult with those who agree with you. It’s also important: The people who get behind you become your teammates, and their support and input helps make change possible. But in order to really make a difference and get wide-reaching support, you need to get feedback from those who resist your idea. What is it about your goal that others may oppose? Talking to people who disagree with you gives you a new perspective and helps you anticipate and plan for setbacks.
3. Be flexible.
Ask for (and listen to!) feedback from critics and supporters alike. Getting input from multiple perspectives doesn’t just help you prepare for potential problems—it can also shed light on unforeseen opportunities. Stay true to your values and the core goals of your vision, but don’t be afraid or too prideful to return to the drawing board if your ideas evolve as you gather different viewpoints. Good leadership means staying committed to the ideas you think are best for everyone, and keeping an open mind shows that you are doing just that.
4. Don’t rush change.
Individuals and groups alike often resist change at first, even if it is for the better. Keep in mind that you are asking people to get out of their comfort zone, which takes time and trust. Make sure not to undermine your own leadership attempts by pushing change too much or too quickly. Let the process move forward without it being too overwhelming for others.
5. Keep going!
Don’t give up if your change doesn’t happen immediately or if you experience some setbacks. The most successful leaders step back for a while to let things cool off before pushing on and are constantly learning from failure and rejection. (Want to learn how to rejection-proof yourself? Check out this Cup of Calm.) Running ongoing experiments as a leader is the key to reaching your goals. Stay positive by taking the time to savor the wins that do come your way, and remember that you may have to take two steps forward and one step back every now and then, but that doesn’t mean you’re not still making progress—and a difference.
Dr. Erik Gregory is the resident psychotherapist of the Harvard Humanist Association. He is the author of “Exploring Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Well-Being” and the upcoming text “Leadership Psychology.” He works internationally with individuals, leaders, start-up organizations, and governments. Find him online at https://www.erikgregory.com/