The Act of Leading Vs Being a Leader


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I was talking to one of my friends about leadership and what it means to be a leader and is there a distinction between being a leader and the act of leading. What follows is my understanding of the difference. Would be a great to riff at this.

Apart from the fact that one is a verb and the other is a noun, there are a few other important things that we need to understand.

The Act of Leading:

The act of leading implies two things

  1. It is an act (with a beginning, middle and an end)
  2. It is about leading (a group of people to a destination).

Its an act:

So, in order to be good at the act of leading, one must know that leading is an act and just like a good actor on stage or in a movie, the actor needs to be fully present in the moment so that (s)he is aware of everything happening in the scene that he is performing.

Its moving toward a destination:

In order to be good at the act of leading, one must also know the destination that you want to arrive at. One needs to know the direction that you are moving the scene towards and the purpose that the scene plays in the larger scheme of things, which also implies that the actor needs to know the larger picture at play as well (end game).

You can lead from anywhere:

Since this is an act, everyone in the scene can perform the act of leading. While in a traditional play or a movie, an actor follows the instructions of the director, the act of leading is more similar to the genre of improvisational theatre, where as an actor you could both lead and follow depending upon the situation.

While one person starts with the lead, (s)he could easily take the role of a follower as well in a specific scene if they realise that there is a better idea flowing from someone else in the scene and again start leading if need be. You respond to the stimuli that presents itself.

So, the best way to deal with an unexpected or an unwanted situation is to fully accept it in the narrative, own it and keep moving forward. So, the act of leading is like starting a well scripted play, which once the actors take the stage becomes and improvisational act and the actors are on their own while on the stage.

It’s the team:

It is the entire team that is responsible to land the story and not just one actor.

Being a Leader:

Being a leader on the other hand comes with some kind of certainty – you are the leader. With this certainty also comes the need to have all the answers, the expectation to behave in a way consistent with how leaders are expected to behave. This also comes with a set of expectations for everyone else on the team – they are all followers and followers don’t lead.

Being a leader also gives you permanent authority (until you are no longer a leader), all of which leads to hubris and therefore to failure.

In conclusion:

What we currently have all around us (in schools, colleges, universities, parliaments, town halls and businesses) are a lot of people who are being leaders, whereas what we need today are people who understand and believe in the act of leading rather than the being of a leader.

Doing The act of leading –>  keeps one humble and open.

Being a leader –> Hubris –> Downfall of the leader & the led.

The act of leading is permanent, leaders are temporary!

Everyone wants to be a leader (and enjoy all the perks that comes with it without doing the act of leading!!!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mukesh Gupta
I currently work for SAP as Customer advocate. In this capacity, I am responsible to ensure that the voice of the customer is being heard and play the bridge between customers and SAP. Prior to joining SAP, I have worked with different organizations serving in different functions like customer service, logistics, production planning & sales, marketing and business development functions. I was also the founder-CEO of a start-up called "Innovative Enterprises". The venture was in the retail & distribution business. I blog at


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