I’ll tell you a little secret.

Just before I kicked off the inaugural Leadership Reimagined breakfast, I was a little nervous.

Are you surprised? After all, speaking in front of groups, developing leaders and teaching people about how to become fearlessly inspiring  – that’s my job, and I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years.

While I find it thrilling to captivate and connect with an audience, it doesn’t come without a little dose of the jitters; I just use my training and knowledge to power through them.

It’s the same way with leadership. While you’ll often hear people mention someone being “a born leader,” that’s not often the case. An extroverted personality or a willingness to jump headfirst into a project doesn’t necessarily make a great leader.

If Being a Great Leader Doesn’t Have to Come Naturally, What Does Make a Great Leader?

If there’s one thing that can move a team member from a contributor to a leader, it’s leadership development.

Focusing time, effort and resources on developing engaged leaders is the most critical component to building leaders that can shape and transform an organization. Through leadership development, you can bring a team together and mold a culture that views people and their talents as its most important resources.

Why Is Leadership Development Important?

Leadership development matters because your leaders and their mindsets shape your overall organization.

You’ve probably noticed that teams tend to look like their leadership. They’re shaped by the people who are above them. Micro-managers tend to have teams who disengage and lose focus on the big picture, and disorganized teams may struggle with focusing on specific goals.

On the other hand, though, leaders who encourage innovation build teams who are forward-looking and focused on success. And, teams with leaders who cultivate engagement are more likely to have engaged teams who meet their goals.

How Can Leadership Development Change My Trajectory as a Leader?

When it comes down to it, there’s one key building block that determines whether a person is a manager, someone who employees report to and who approves time cards; or a leader – a person team members love to follow and support.

It has nothing to do with the raises you approve or the holiday lunches you organize (although those can both help!). The difference between a manager and a leader is the capability to develop and demonstrate emotional intelligence.

Here’s why emotional intelligence matters:

  • Emotional intelligence empowers you to become more effective at managing yourself and your relationships.
  • Emotional intelligence gives you a deeper understanding of the connections between thoughts and behavior.
  • Emotional intelligence provides a clearer and more accurate understanding of your employees’, coworkers’ and managers’ needs, so you can manage your outreach and responses to their own versions of communication.
  • Emotional intelligence allows you to build stronger relationships and trust networks throughout your team and organization, which helps as you build success and seek to rise in your career.

I’m Nowhere Near the Top of My Company’s Org Chart. Does Leadership Development Matter for Me?

If you frequently hear about top-down leadership, it can feel discouraging to wonder about whether you can make a difference when you’re not yet in an C-suite or executive management role.

Here’s the best thing about leadership development: you can start it now. 

You don’t have to have a team of 1,000 or 100 or even 10 employees to be a good leader. You don’t even have to have one.

A good leader leads whether they have the title or not. Even if you’re not the big boss with the corner office, you still have the opportunity to be a leader and to exert influence within your organization.

According to the Harvard Business Review, true leaders can, regardless of their technical role or title, help to shape corporate policy or to distill a corporate vision into actionable steps for themselves and their teams.

You can lead by example; you can lead by developing and demonstrating a strategic mindset; and you can lead by creating influence through your network of relationships and business partnerships.

Again, it’s never too early to start.

The average leader is in his or her role for 10 years before getting the training they need to become effective leaders. Take the opportunities ahead of time to grow, develop and become the kind of leader you want to be, so that when you assume your desired leadership role, you’ll be prepared.

How Do I Get Started With Becoming a Leader, Or With Creating Great Leaders for My Organization?

The title on your desk or name tag doesn’t preclude you from leadership development. Investing in your leadership skills even at the earliest stages of your career will help you hit the ground running when a leadership opportunity is presented.

The same advice rings true for executives and human resources leaders wondering about who to include in leadership development training programs. It’s never too early to begin cultivating potential leaders and instilling the value of leadership development in your team.

If you have a strategic vision for your company, leadership development can help you move your organization toward that goal, because you’re showing your employees and colleagues what your company values and you’re aligning their individual efforts into a cohesive team approach that will get results.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Shakespeare: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” If you’re ready to achieve greatness, consider investing your time and energy into a leadership development program that can help you develop the emotional intelligence and strategic acumen to lead from wherever you currently are in your career development.