“What makes a great leader?” This is a question that really has no definitive answer, but it still perplexes people. Many explanations scare people away from the concept of leadership. It is often depicted as this heady, esoteric trait that is only mastered (and practiced) by a few experienced individuals in a given organization. We wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that leadership is achieved by a select few with others mindlessly following the anointed leader. In an attempt to enable people to bear witness to and appreciate their own abilities as a leader and mentor, we offer the idea of “Accessible Leadership.”
Accessible Leadership is the idea that everyone has the inherent ability to be a leader and simply need to tap into the necessary skills within us in order to realize this potential. Heavily influenced by the concepts developed by Carl Rogers, the great humanistic psychologist, Accessible Leadership believes in the power and influence of individuals and the relationships they form with others. Practitioners of the Accessible Leadership model exhibit the three “C’s” in their relationships – they connect, care and change.
The first C, connect is all about making the initial effort to facilitate the development of a relationship. Though it may seem simple, this step is often overlooked. Having an open door policy is a necessary first step; however, it alone is not sufficient. We need to invite and encourage others to walk through the door. When we are real and approachable, others are more likely to accept our invitation and respond to overtures to connect and begin a relationship. Conversely, a mentor will seize opportunities to initiate dialogue and express an interest when others might be hesitant to engage. Connecting does not necessarily require lengthy conversations or ongoing, daily interactions. Small simple gestures of encouragement and feedback can be as potent and meaningful. It is common to have very casual relationships with people that you may see every day and say “Hello” to, but that’s the extent of your relationship. You probably can relate to instances when you were working with a team or a group and become close to a couple of the members but you only talk to the others as necessary. It’s natural to be nervous or afraid to be the one to reach out, because what if they reject us? What if they don’t want or need our help? I don’t believe we should let fear of a slightly awkward encounter keep us from potentially changing the lives of others and having our own lives changed for the better. We can only be an agent of influence for others when we connect on a meaningful level.
The second C, care is all about the core of a relationship. All of the C’s should be enjoyable, but this one is particularly fun. Be yourself. People see through facades that we put up when we try to be a “leader.” If you are easy going and fun loving, then be easy going and fun loving in your relationships with others. Authenticity and genuineness is key. This means being fully present (a phrase borrowed from Rogers) with others. Unfortunately, conversations often miss the mark. Think of instances when you were having a conversation with a boss, co-worker, or even a friend about something fairly important, and they were more interested in social media on their phones. In many situations, the conversation is all about the other person; it becomes more of a monologue than a conversation. Be fully present. Listen. Care about what the people in your life are doing. Help them do what they want to do. Encourage them and believe in their ability. Give honest feedback. If you’re having an off day, be honest; let the other person know that you can’t fully attend to them at the moment and that it is nothing personal, but you will certainly listen later. We care when we are present, attentive, and genuine in the interests of others.
The final C, change, can mean a lot of things – influencing change in others, change in kind or structure, or change within ourselves. The wonderful thing is that while it is so ambiguous, it is easy to see that change can occur, typically for good, when the first two C’s are realized. Who knows? A college professor could inspire a young person who has had a difficult past and very little confidence in his ability to pursue a doctoral degree, after thinking graduating from college was nearly impossible. Maybe your relationship with someone changed your outlook on the world and now you do things drastically different. Maybe you now see yourself differently and embrace this difference. Maybe your belief in someone enabled that person to see his/her potential and led to a life of work helping others that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. We do not choose what change is needed in others. Rather, we help others realize who they are and what they want to be. Change is good and should be embraced; we are all agents of change. We just need to choose how we express that.
Are leaders born or made? Leaders are made, not born, and made more by themselves than by external means. Everyone, regardless of age or circumstance, has the ability to lead and mentor others. This is because everyone is capable of self-transformation. Human potential and ability is not carved in stone. It is developed and realized through experience and interactions. The self-transformation to a person of influence is better achieved when we recognize the potential for growth in all of us – the leader and the leader in waiting. It is certainly within reach – it needs to be understood and cultivated. Simply, good leaders are present and are accessible.
It is not the position but rather the person – being a person of influence. The power of such influence becomes real and accessible when we, as leaders or mentors, connect with others, care about others and becomes agents of change. This may not make us a “great” leader, but it certainly brings with it the real potential to impact others in a positive way.