What Is Leadership?

CRS 15 | Leadership


A lot of traits surface when one is asked what a true, effective leader is. It is safe to say that leadership is a multifaceted area of research and skill for a lot of questions to come into play. What does leadership mean? How do leaders play and win the game? Is leadership all about the position? In her book, Plant Your Flag: The Seven Secrets to Winning, Carolyn dives into the questions on what comprises a true leader and how to bring out the drive to be an effective one in the field. In this episode, she defines leadership and breaks down the pitfalls leader face and how to rise above it.

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What Is Leadership?

CRS 15 | Leadership
Plant Your Flag: The Seven Secrets to Winning

When I was thinking about what I should talk about, I thought I’d give you some insights as to what my book is all about. The name of it is Plant Your Flag, The Seven Secrets to Winning. What exactly does that mean? What does it mean to plant your flag? When we came up with this title, when you plant your flag, you’re claiming victory. You’re claiming that you have won the game, whatever that game is. My book is all about winning at leadership. I talk about how do you win as a leader and what does leadership mean? I’ve worked with leaders throughout my career. I’ve learned a lot from all of them. The last 30 years, I’ve worked in the corporate world. My roles have been working with people to improve themselves, to learn a new skill or to perfect the skills that they already have. I’ve worked with both senior executives at the highest level within an organization as well as the associates at all levels within a company, the people who get the work done.

What Leadership Means

It’s so rewarding to be able to see people learn new skills or when you look at them and you see that something clicks for them, you can tell on their face that they finally get it. That’s why I love my job so much. My goal is to have that click, that look on their face for everyone I work with and that’s all about personal growth. My book looks at it through a little bit of a different lens. I’ve written about what does leadership mean? In this environment, the word leadership is one of those buzzwords that people love to use. Everyone wants to be thought of as a great leader, but what exactly does that mean? Many people have different ideas on what a leader is. I thought that I define it for you from my point of view.

I’ll start with Professor Paul Thornton because when I did my research, what he said resonated with me. He says, “Effective leaders believe that individuals, organizations and even nations possess undiscovered talents and untapped resources. They seek to unleash the full potential of their followers so that they can reach higher and go farther than they previously thought possible.” That is powerful. Finding those undiscovered talents not only within yourself but within others and unleashing the full potential for other people and watching them learn and grow, that’s what leadership is. Leadership is not about you. It’s about unleashing the potential of others to be selfless and to look for ways to help other people. There are so many examples of different types of leaders in my book. I give some examples of thought leaders, courageous leaders, inspirational leaders, and servant leaders.

The one thing that they all have in common, in all cases, is that these individuals had a message that resonated with others. They had a strong conviction about what they believe in. That comes across to those that follow them because people choose who they want to follow. They’re not required to do so. A true leader ignites a spark within others. They inspire others and for that reason, those people want to follow them. They feel connected to the individual and what that individual stands for, even if they’ve never met them. You could be tied to somebody based on their message simply by hearing them. You can feel tied to a musician because of the lyrics of their song. You can feel what they feel when they sing it. You can be inspired by somebody who writes a book because you connect with that book. You feel what they feel and that’s what makes you want to follow them.

They feel connected to the individual because of what the individual stands for. Their values are linked together in some way and some people think you have to be born a leader. I believe that there are skills that you can learn to be an effective leader. Every one of us has skills, perspectives, experiences and ideas that can be used to help others. Every single one of us, you just need to want to use them. You have to want to go out of your way, not for yourself but for others. Leadership happens all day, every day. It’s all around us whether you’re cognizant of it or not. Any time someone takes an idea, shares a plan of action and puts that plan into motion and makes it happen, they are leading others. Leadership is constantly changing. It’s a dynamic process. As our environment changes, our norms change and so does our leadership style.

Position Power

Years ago, leadership was thought of in a very different way. It’s changed over the years because when you think about it, back in the day, leadership was thought of as more of somebody linked to a specific position. That’s like a position power. It means that because you have a certain position, people feel like they’re required to follow you. In an organization, if you’re the CEO, people have to follow you. You are the one that is in charge. The strategy, everything is linked to you. If I work for that company, I have to follow you whether I choose to or not. If I choose not to, I have to leave the company. That’s what we mean by position power because you hold a position that gives you that title. Many of us consider our boss to be a leader because he or she is in charge. They might not be an effective leader. They might not have the skills to inspire others to do things. Just because you have a higher position with more responsibility, that doesn’t mean that you’re an effective leader.

A true leader ignites a spark within others. Click To Tweet

We have examples of this in our environment. Over the years, we’ve evolved. We have, in my opinion, become a more open society. We’ve changed our perspective of what leaders look like. My book talks about what it takes in this environment to be a great leader, what skills do you need to have and how do you enhance the skills that you already have. People are looking for leaders. They’re starving for those that can inspire them, to push them, to help them reach their goals. To me, it’s truly a skill and a mindset to push yourself and others to achieve more. Sometimes you don’t set out to be a leader. You just go about your life, but your actions are what makes you a leader.

In All Shapes And Sizes

I started my journey of uncovering what leadership means years and years ago. I was like this sponge talking to people who were successful at leadership and looking for examples of what made them successful. I also looked at those that were not successful and determined what they were doing to undermine their own success at leading people. I talked to many other people, as many people as possible to get their thoughts and insights as well. I did my research throughout my entire career. There were so many leadership books out there. There’s a leadership book on every shelf. Mine is a bit different. It looks at things through a different lens whether you’re a corporate executive, a stay-at-home mom or a captain of your soccer team. All of those examples are of people that are leading others. You see leaders come in all shapes and sizes. That’s the beauty of the evolution because it’s not about the corporate executive that’s the powerful leader. Some of the most powerful leaders look very different.

You can be a leader in your field setting the standard for others to follow. Years ago, computers were the size of a large room. Now they fit into the palm of your hand. What does that equate to? It equates to somebody with a vision, somebody who saw something different, who followed that vision and made it happen and got others along the way. Years ago, the gymnast, Nadia Comaneci, at the age of fourteen scored the first perfect ten in the Olympics in 1976. Now her routine wouldn’t even make the national team. She was a leader in her sport then but would not be considered a leader unless she changed with the times, unless she adapted and continued to challenge the status quo. Leaders are always looking to challenge the status quo. They’re looking to push the envelope. They’re looking for those people that have that same mindset to help them on their journey to look for that endless road of possibilities. In many leadership books you’ll read, they will talk about getting a group of people and leading towards a common goal. That’s the definition. That was always thought to be the only action of a leader.

CRS 15 | Leadership
Leadership: People are looking for leaders. They’re starving for those that can inspire them, push them, and help them reach their goals.


My thoughts are different. Yes, you need that, but that is no longer enough. You need much more than that as well. You need action. You need forward thinking. You need to challenge the status quo so that you don’t get complacent. I’m not here to tell you that there is one way to lead because every situation is different. Every person is different. There are certain common and vital traits that leaders must have. They must have conviction. They must have passion. They must have courage in order to stand out. Think about somebody who inspires you. Think about someone who you consider to be a great leader. What are the things that they do to make you want to follow them? What are the feelings that they leave you with when you’re with them? Ask yourself those questions to find them for yourself. What do you consider to be a great leader and why?

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and you must challenge the status quo to remain relevant as a leader. My book talks about that throughout the book. There’s something different about my book. I’ve added the Survivor twist. I’ve talked about it before. I was lucky enough to be a contestant on the best reality show of all time, Survivor. I was able to interview and talk with so many players throughout the years. I’ve added in some insights from some of the Survivor winners. I wanted to find out from them how they were able to win at such a tough game. What skills did they use in their 39-day journey to victory? You will see how they describe the leadership skills necessary to win at the game of Survivor. You’ll be able to see it from their point of view. Even though Survivor is a game and there are things that you have to do that you may not do in the real world, it does take skills to win the game. It does take leadership skills to get people to do things that you need them to do, just like in life.

A Manager Versus A Leader

If you’re one of those contestants ready to go out and play the game, you will want to see what these Survivor winners had to say about leadership. You’ll want to hear their thoughts and how they used their skills to win and achieve victory. Remember, when you plant your flag, you’re claiming victory and each one of those Survivors are winners to that. There is some confusion when you think about leaders. There’s always a discussion that I wanted to talk through in terms of what is the difference between the role of a manager and the role of a leader. I thought I’d start by defining it for you. A manager is all about the work. They put a plan in place. They figure out what it takes to get the work done. They work with others to manage the processing of the work. It’s a person who controls the activities of others. Some words that are used to describe managers are they’re directing, controlling, coordinating and harmonizing a group of people that are working towards a common goal. They have people who work for them because they’re focused on the work. Leaders are focused on people.

Getting The Work Done

The words that describe leaders are more linked to influence, motivate, inspire and enable others. Managers are task-oriented. They’re focused on the task at hand and will do whatever it takes to accomplish that task. Managers are persistent. They like more of the analysis. Managers are focused on the completion of the work. Leaders are focused on people. They’re focused on how the people will feel. What will it take to get the people to accomplish the goal? They have more of the big picture focus to see and create a future vision. Leaders are focused on the people and understanding what it takes to get people to want to follow them. I always talk about the fact that people need to be able to play both roles because there are certain times when you need something to get done and you have to figure out a way to make it happen. You have to figure out what it takes to get the work done and focus on that.

Leadership is constantly changing. It's a dynamic process. Click To Tweet

There are times when you must be able to see the big picture to focus on how to inspire others, to understand the needs of others. For some, understanding the needs of others may be easy for them. For others, it may be difficult. What you need to do is identify where you are and what your comfort zone is. Determine what you’d need to improve in order to be more effective because some people have that intuitive feeling on others. They can see what people are feeling. They can feel what people are feeling. Others have a harder time with that. You have to determine where you are. What is your comfort zone? Where do you feel comfortable, in the management space or do you feel comfortable in the leadership space? Where do you see yourself? What are your personal leadership goals? These are questions that you must answer individually because no one can do it for you. You’re in total control of your own destiny in that respect.

The thing is that you have to be honest with yourself because the only way that you’re going to be able to improve yourself as a leader is by being honest with your skill set. Where are you? The first step is to really and truthfully determine where you are now. How successful are you now in your leadership approach, in your leadership style? How important is it to you? If we are comfortable in the day-to-day, then nothing will change. What you tolerate every day you will not change. You have to see that comfort is a problem that you have to fix. If you don’t see it as a problem, then you’re not going to do anything about it. You have to see that complacency is a problem that you have to fix because nothing changes until you realize that you can’t take it anymore. You finally have come to the end of your rope and you’re ready to do something about it.

CRS 15 | Leadership
Leadership: A leader is a role model for others. Every single thing that you do every single day, people are watching.


We can talk until we’re blue in the face. That alone won’t change anything. The mindset of a leader is something that I talk a lot about because the mindset of a leader sets the tone for those that follow them. If your leader cuts corners, you’re going to do the same thing. If someone you respect finds an easy way out, you’re going to do the same thing. A leader is a role model for others. You have to think of yourself as a role model. Every single thing that you do every single day, people are watching. They’re making judgments about. They’re putting it into their bag of tricks because if you’re a leader, people want to be like you. They want to do the things that you do. They want to follow you.

Pitfalls Of Effective Leadership

Now, I’m going to focus on the things to look out for; the things that can get in your way of being effective. I do this because it helps you to think about how you personally are operating. It helps you to see if you are undermining your own success by falling into these traps. I will outline what those things are. I’ll talk more about the characteristics that make a great leader. I know it may sound a little backwards to you. I’m doing this specifically for a reason because I want you to determine how you operate and uncover if, in fact, you are falling into some of these pitfalls yourself. The first pitfall that I want to talk about is feedback. There are a couple of things to consider when you think of feedback. The first is that feedback is a gift and it must happen. If you’re a leader and you’re not providing feedback, that is a big problem because people are looking for feedback. People are looking for things that tell them how they are doing. When you don’t provide feedback at all, it can be misconstrued as you don’t care enough because you don’t think it’s important enough or you don’t think they’re important enough. People take that very personally.

If you’re a leader, are you providing feedback? That is step number one. The answer to that question is either yes or no. Sometimes on the opposite end of the spectrum, you may be providing too much feedback. What I mean by that is too much negative feedback. You must have a balanced approach to providing feedback. If you only focus on the negative, the person will most likely dismiss it or rationalize it themselves in their own mind because every time you provide them feedback, it’s always negative. It loses its powerfulness, if that’s even a word. It loses its power because it’s constant negative feedback. It’s draining. It pulls people down. You have to be balanced in your approach to giving feedback. Feedback must be specific. You must provide clear examples of exactly what you’re talking about. The worst thing to say to someone is you are doing great or from a standpoint, nothing is going well. Now, you are doing great, what does that mean to me? I have no idea. What am I doing that’s so great? What should I continue to do that is so great? I have no idea because you haven’t told me.

Sometimes you don't set out to be a leader. You just go about your life, but your actions are what make you a leader. Click To Tweet

In each of those examples, there’s nothing that is specific that I can walk away within change, whether I need to make sure that I continue to do it because it’s fabulous or the things that I need to stop doing because they’re not working. In that respect, I won’t change anything. This is one of my favorite examples because I would venture to say that everyone reading has used this phrase and you provide feedback to somebody by saying this, “You have a bad attitude.” Certainly, for those of us that are parents, we’ve definitely used that phrase on our kids. We wonder why nothing changed. We look at our kids and they look at us. They’re like, “What are we supposed to change?” Are we surprised because nothing has changed? You define attitude. It can mean something different to everyone reading. If you’re expecting something to change, the chances are slim that a change will take place.

A better way to say or give feedback is to say something like, “You need to stop rolling your eyes at me when I’m asking you to review your homework.” If I’m a kid, if I’m your child, I now know exactly what I’m supposed to change. I need to stop rolling my eyes at you. Feedback is very important. You must give feedback because everyone wants feedback. They might say that they don’t but deep down, people want to know how they’re doing. You can’t focus only on the negative. You must be balanced in your approach with both the things that you want them to change and the things that you want them to continue to do. Lastly, make sure that you are very specific so they know exactly what to change because as a leader that is your job. Your job is to make sure that they understand what they’re doing and how they’re doing.

Another mistake that some leaders make is they fail to understand what true motivation is. The issue here is that everyone is motivated differently. There is not a one-size-fits-all concept here. It means that you have to spend the time to get to know the people that you are attempting to lead. You have to understand what makes them tick. You have to figure out why they feel like they want to be linked to your agenda. You have to determine who they are and what’s important to them. It is not always easy. The easy example is, why don’t you ask them? It’s not that easy because sometimes people don’t feel comfortable providing that feedback. Sometimes people don’t and truly know why they’re doing things or they’re not sharing that with you. You have to figure out how to determine what’s important to them.

This is not about you. This is totally about them. Motivation is finding the reason that one person acts in a certain way. If your child is acting out, what is the reason? Do they want more attention? Do they feel sick? Do they not understand why something is happening? Your reaction will be different depending on the reason that they’re doing what they’re doing. I also love this example. Let’s say you punish one of your children for doing something bad. You take away the PlayStation. That child is totally devastated. They love PlayStation. It hits home with them when they can’t play on it for a week. You decide to use the same punishment on your second child. They never play with it. What type of response do you think you’re going to get if you want that second child to change? They haven’t felt anything by removing the PlayStation. They don’t see any consequence.

This is an example of taking something away. That’s a negative motivation example. It works in both ways. Why do you go to work? How did you select the company that you work for? Was it based on the company values because your values link to the company values? Was it based on pay because they offered you this fabulous job with this great pay? Is it because you absolutely love the work that you do? All of those examples are examples of motivation. If somebody is motivated by money and you don’t see it that way and you give them a different type of recognition, you’re not going to motivate them because you haven’t figured out what’s important to them. Remember, this is not about you. Every employee is different. Have you ever worked in a place where there’s this one employee at work where people ignore that this individual may act out and people brush it off by saying, “That’s just so and so, we ignore her or him most of the time?” That’s horrible.

It All Starts With You

If you’re the leader, your employees are expecting you to do something about it. They’re expecting you to put on your big girl pants and make sure that that behavior is not tolerated in the workplace. That’s the role of a leader. When a leader avoids conflict in that manner, you’re undermining your ability to lead because you’re going to lose the respect of other people who you work with, other people who work for you. Leadership is such an important role to play anywhere. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They’re skills that you can perfect to improve yourself as a leader. Remember, it all starts with you. You’re in control of how you operate and how you act. As a leader, you’re a role model. Remember, people are watching you. They’re watching your every move that you make. I always tell leaders that they’re like actors and actresses. They are on stage 24/7. People look up to you as a leader. People want to be where you are as a leader. That’s when you know that you are successful. You have to determine what’s important to you.

You're in control of how you operate and how you act. Click To Tweet

We talked about the difference between being a leader and being a manager. A manager focuses on the work, moving that work forward and executing a strategy. It’s more of the analytical role moving that work forward. You are looking to manage people through a process to get the work done and leadership is all about focusing on the people. You’re leading people and working with them to see a vision through completion. It’s more about the people than the process. As a businessperson, you have to be able to do both because there are certain times when you have to manage the work to hit a deadline. There are other times when you’re looking to develop people, to inspire others, to succeed, to motivate them, to want to follow you because they have a choice. They can choose to follow you or not. We talked about stepping back and thinking about where you are. How do you operate? Are you an effective leader? Have people told you that you’re effective? You don’t get to rate yourself as a leader. You don’t get to rate your leadership skills. They’re determined by the other people, the people that follow you.

You may think you’re a fabulous leader. If people don’t agree, then you’re fooling yourself. Some people have a bigger ego than others and sometimes that ego gets in their way. I’ve given you the information. My book has much more. You can go to my website and pre-order your copy of my book, Plant Your Flag, The Seven Secrets to Winning. I’m offering the first 100 books at a discounted price. I will sign each one of those copies when I mail it out to you. When you go to my website, hit the subscribe button because I’m also having another drawing for an autographed picture from Survivor and a fifteen-minute Skype call with me. Follow me on Instagram, @TheCarolynRiveraShow. If you’re ready to ignite your will to win, enhance your leadership effectiveness, build the strategic plan or reprogram your mindset, I’m here to help you. My passion is to watch people succeed. Remember, believe, commit, achieve. It’s the secret sauce you’re looking for.

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