Leadership is difficult. It requires responsibility, confidence, and a willingness to do what is in the best interest of others instead of one's self. One must learn to dispense with ego and see things through the eyes of those who follow. Further, the traits of a leader don’t always come naturally. And even if they do, they must be honed and refined until becoming part of one's everyday character.
How then are the skills necessary to become a good leader perfected? The answer is simple: by giving, serving, and helping others achieve greatness.
In the words of Plato, "people can not be good leaders unless they have been good servants." They have to be willing to put in the time and effort toward helping others before they can ever become effective in leadership.
Think back to the last person that positively affected your life. Maybe it was a parent, friend, speaker, teacher, or mentor. Whomever it was, my guess is that they made you feel positive and influential, excited and determined. They made you feel appreciated. I'd be willing to bet that they didn't lecture you on how to do x, y, or z. Instead, they listened to your concerns and lent a helping hand. In essence, they became a servant to your needs. They were looking out for your best interests.
That is what a true leader does. They are not afraid to get dirty and help solve a difficult problem. Even if their willingness means it may detract from their personal well being. They inspire us by building up our courage, giving us the tools necessary to solve our dilemmas. It is not the use of persuasive words or high social status that makes us want to follow someone. Rather it is their willingness to give back to those who follow and to society in general.
This simple fact means that everyone can be a leader in some way, shape or form. You do not have to be born into the right family or have the charisma of a rock star in order to lead. All you have to do is become a dedicated servant to those around you. Helping others, however, does not mean being pushed around. Such would not benefit either leaders or followers. You must understand boundaries, stand up for what's right, and take responsibility for your actions. Thus, you are better equipped to focus on the real goal of seeking out ways to help others be all they can be.
Leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. stood strong in their positions, even when facing incredible and often dangerous obstacles. At the same time, they were humble in servitude for the people they were leading. They weren’t doing it for glory or recognition. They were doing it because they felt deep down it was their duty to humanity. Life would have been a lot less stressful had they chosen the selfish route. But instead, they were called to a higher responsibility.
We may not always be presented with chances to lead monumental social changes like Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr. But we shouldn’t let that stop us. Every day there are little opportunities to take part in acts of service to others. They do not have to be big grandiose gestures. It may be a friendly offer to carry in the groceries for a family member or staying a little later at work to help a colleague on a project. It may be picking up a piece of trash in your neighbor's yard or cooking a meal for someone that is sick. Whichever way you serve, be sure to do it often and with a selfless spirit. By doing so, you will be well on your way to becoming an influential leader.