I'm currently doing a 5-week intensive course over the Spring semester towards UTAS' Vice Chancellor's Leadership Program, and I've been thinking about what it means to be a leader quite a bit as a result.
In particular, I've resonated quite a lot with the ideas put forward by author and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek (you can find many of his messages and ideas at the website www.startwithwhy.com). Of course, none of what I write here is representative of the views of Simon Sinek and his group, his presentations have merely acted as inspiration. Of particular note is a quote from one of his presentations:
I'd like to touch on the idea that a leader cannot simply be hired, and it is not necessarily a position of choice. Leaders must be elected by the community that they represent, and that election needs to occur continuously. The moment your community stops seeing you as their leader, you lose that position. As such, having a higher paycheck and the power to order those around you doesn't make you a "leader", it makes you a "boss". You can be one without being the other. You can also refuse to be one, but not the other.
You are only a leader when others elect you as one. And you are always a leader when others elect you as one.
Regardless of whether we seek out a position of leadership or seek to avoid it, the decision can only ever be half ours, as it is also the decision of those who come into contact with us.
But what should you do if a group elects you to be the leader, and you don't want the job? Well, I'd like to think that people are very good at discerning who has leadership qualities and who does not, and if a large number of people are joined together in nominating you, then you'd likely do a pretty good job at it. And that maybe others have been able to see in you what you could not see in yourself.