Do you work in an environment that fosters leadership at every level, or just at the top of the org chart? You can either chasten people for attempting to lead, or encourage them to take risks, to explore opportunities, and to make decisions.  If you want to create a culture of leadership, you must succeed in creating leadership ubiquity.

I’ve written often on the value of creating a culture of leadership, yet I continue to be amazed at how many organizations simply fail to understand the impossibility of creating such a culture when people are consistently told they’re not leaders. Organizations built on the backs of weak dependent followers aren’t nearly as vibrant or sustainable as those designed through the collaborative efforts of strong independent leaders.

If you take one thing away from today’s column let it be this: leadership that isn’t transferrable, repeatable, scalable, and sustainable isn’t really leadership at all. Not everyone can be the CEO, but everyone can lead. Remember this: if you believe you’re not a leader, don’t be surprised when others begin to agree with you.

When in doubt, think ubiquity, not scarcity. Leadership isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a scarce commodity. Far too many companies wrongly treat leadership as an esoteric role reserved for a privileged few.  However healthy organizations realize leadership must be a ubiquitous quality that pervades every aspect of day-to-day operations. They understand every person must lead; even if people are only responsible for leading themselves, they must lead.

The problem with what I’ve espoused thus far is found in the reality of how society has changed our perception of leadership through the years. The devolution of leadership as a practice has occurred as a result of two primary items: 1.) The abdication of personal responsibility and accountability by many in the workforce, and; 2.) The hijacking of authority and control by those who value self-promotion and power over real leadership.

Any individual who holds responsibility for any person, aspect, function, or task within an organization is in fact a leader. You may not be in charge, but if your direct or indirect efforts influence others, you are in fact leading. The higher up the org chart you reside, the more dependent you are on the leadership ability of those you lead. Anyone who offers advice, creative thought, input, or feedback is helping to shape the perceptions of senior leaders – they also thereby function as leaders themselves.

When we fail to accept our responsibility as co-workers and citizens when we so easily cede our authority to others, we not only fail to lead – we sentence ourselves to a life of squandered potential. Keep in mind; the people with the greatest formal authority do not necessarily possess or exert the greatest influence.

If you think you’re not a leader, don’t be surprised when others begin to believe you. The reality is the only person who can strip you of leadership is you. The best leaders not only lead themselves well, they also develop others to become highly skilled leaders. They’re not threatened by the success of others, but take great satisfaction in it.