Great leaders are not only those who appear to be born with innate leadership qualities – we are all role models, whether we like it or not

Whether we like it or not, we influence and have an impact on other people. Have you ever recommended a restaurant, a film, a book, a running shop, a make or brand of running shoes, and someone has spent money on that product or that establishment as a result? Have you ever been kind and done someone a favour? Have you ever been mean and unkind or had a moan to someone else? We are all role models, whether we like it or not, sometimes influencing others to be like us, and sometimes helping them to make sure they’re nothing like us.

If you ask someone to think of a great leader, they’ll often come up with someone they think is an accomplished orator, who has charisma, or who is a no-nonsense person who paints a powerful vision that has others wanting to follow. To most of us, these types of leaders seem to be another breed, people who aren’t like us, who were born with innate leadership qualities.

On one of the courses I lead, we ask participants to think of a leader they knew personally, whether it was a manager, a teacher, a relative or someone in authority they looked up to. We then ask them what it was that leader did, and how what they did made them feel.

Anyone can be a leader

Every time I’ve done this exercise participants have said their leader: “led by example”, “wasn’t afraid to get involved”, “listened to me”, “believed in me”, “gave me their time”. When asked how those actions made them feel, responses included more confident, self-assured, inspired, motivated and happy. We then ask participants: “who else, other than your leader, can do these things and make you feel the way you did?” Everyone realises that anyone can. I love this definition of leadership from the Harvard Business School: “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

Those of us who are runners, or even take on a challenge like walking a mile each day, are influencing others without realising.

Inspiring others

And the beauty of doing something simple, like running, walking, cycling or swimming a mile each day is that most people will look at it and think, “I could do that”. Not everyone may want to do it, but because it’s simple and achievable there is more chance of inspiring others to do it.

There are a number of people on our mile each day group who have already inspired others to take up the challenge. Helping someone, who has been sedentary, take up a daily exercise regime can have a powerful and positive impact. The mile each day has impacted my mental fitness probably more than my physical fitness. It has also greatly improved my resilience. At a time when obesity and the incidence of type 2 diabetes and other physical and mental, illnesses are growing, you could be leading someone to a healthier, happier and longer life. If that’s not making others better because of your presence and making sure the impact lasts, I don’t know what is, you leader you!


Tony Phillips is a personal coach who works with entrepreneurs and business leaders. An enthusiastic back of the pack runner, in 2010 he began an experiment to run at least a mile a day.