Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Even if you weren’t raised with a garden in your backyard, you’ve likely placed a seed in some dirt for science class at some point. If you took good care of that seed, then after a few days, you watched it push its way free from the soil and become a thriving plant.
Leadership isn’t all that different. Much like a seed, your leader instinct sits inside you, waiting for some nurturing and care. You just have to make the choice of whether to deliver the attention it needs. If your heart is telling you to pick up the watering can and bask in the sun, how can you take the first step?
1. Accept the fact you’re a leader
You’re not alone if you wake up thinking you’re not a leader. According to one study, 50% of female managers and 31% of male managers say they’ve felt self-doubt at some point in their careers. But if you wake up and ask yourself how you can learn to lead instead, you’re letting in the first rays of sunshine your leadership seed needs to grow.
All of us have the ability to ask questions of ourselves and others. Once you embrace this ability, the skill of inquiry can bring you right into the leadership position you’ve craved. In fact, it’s a big part of why I hold my position at my company now. As a member of the board, I kept asking company leaders important questions that jumpstarted great ideas, so they asked me to step up as the CEO.
The inquiry continues to be at the core of leadership, even at the top. As you move up, you’ll inevitably fall into uncharted waters with no playbooks and get handed heavier responsibilities. This is why I constantly ask for information and opinions from other people. I know I don’t have all the experience or answers myself, but I trust that we can pool our resources and knowledge together to find out.
2. Dismantle leadership myths
Leadership myths are like mold — they can coat your seed and damage its ability to grow. Some of the worst myths include the concepts that leaders are born rather than made and that great titles equal great leaders. We often associate leadership with titles or specific traits, but some executives only have fancy titles because they’ve spent decades in their industry. They’ve “earned” the CEO role through time and commitment, but when it comes down to it, they’re ineffective leaders.
You can see these myths fall apart when you look at famous leaders throughout history. Mother Teresa didn’t have a complex agenda. Instead, she focused on helping one person at a time. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t focus on how many people he could get in front of his podium — he just spoke truthfully about a vision he believed in.
So let go of the mistaken belief that leadership is having an office and elaborate organizational charts. It’s not about any of those things. Leadership is about a state of mind. If you have the right attitude, you can get to the forefront of anything you want to lead.
3. Ask how you can keep watering your seed
As you go through the day, you might pick up a piece of trash that 60 other people have passed. You might return the wallet someone lost on a busy street when others may have chosen to pocket it.
These examples show us that leadership is about the little things. They also show that you can be whatever kind of leader you want to be. My daughter, who has always wanted to be a lawyer, got a successful competitive mock trial group going at her school. In the same way, if someone likes chess and there’s no chess club at their school, their first small action could be to go to the activities director and ask to form a group. There are no age or certification requirements for taking initiative.
More than just the initial step, leadership takes continued effort. If you don’t spread the word that there’s a new chess club and figure out a place to meet, guess what? Not many people will show up. Once you’ve answered the question of what kind of leader you want to be, you should continue asking yourself what you can do to take that leadership to the next level.
4. Surround yourself with good leadership influences
Most people are heavily influenced by those around them. That’s one of the reasons I’ve seen parents send their kids to a specific school, sports team, tutor or coach. They want to make sure their children’s peers share the belief that academics matter and want to help their kids. It’s the same reason I get anxious about who my own kids choose to spend time around. I know those relationships will play a major role in shaping who my children become.
Influence can come from others in the office, too. It shapes not just your health but also your overall wellbeing. It’s imperative that you pay attention to the people you spend time with. Build yourself a support system of positive people who share your values and have a track record of drawing people to them. Not only will they teach you the technical elements you need to move forward, but also how to be a motivated, healthy and happy human being.
The harvest never stops
We all know someone who got really good at playing guitar, cooking or even juggling bowling pins. None of those people were champions at those skills on day one, but they wanted to get better. They chose to put in the work and hone their craft.
We can work to hone our leadership skills, too. We simply have to go through the effort of nurturing the capability inside of us. This includes letting go of limiting mindsets and finding the right people to be solid examples for us. This isn’t a one-time commitment. Just like seeds need more than one watering, you have to continue taking daily action for your leadership to blossom. When those actions add up to success, you not only will get asked to take on more roles, but you can also inspire others to take action on what matters most to them. It’s a lifelong journey with no destination. The fact that there is no endpoint, however, is what makes leadership such a beautiful process. There will always be a way to make a change, and that harvest is well worth the water and sunshine you’ll use up along the way.