Wait! Before you skip over this article because you think you’re not a leader, hold on.  I think you might find that this article is for you—maybe just for you. You see, I work with leaders every day, because that is my life’s work. I develop leaders. My entire focus is studying and understanding leadership and then teaching it to others. Here is what I’ve learned:

Being a leader can begin at any phase of life.

It’s a choice.

It doesn’t matter what mistakes you’ve made in the past.

There are two kinds of leaders: those who lead by example, and those who actively lead others. Most of the time, we think of leaders as those who run companies with employees, have government offices with a lot of staff, or lead military brigades. But individual contributors can also be leaders. For example, think about a respected physician in town, a prominent athlete, a minister, or any other individual contributor who lives his or her life with integrity and courage. These people may not manage a single person, but they’re still considered leaders in the community.

And that is why this article is for you. You can be lead as an individual contributor or as a leader of others—if you will live your life with integrity and courage. Still not convinced you can lead?  Let me go one step further.

It doesn’t matter what mistakes you have made in the past. I know many people who have failed in a major, devastating way, but who rose again to make a difference in their families, communities, businesses, and some even on a greater scale. I can name many who are still around, but to save myself from having to ask for their permission, let’s use some who are no longer here. How about Moses, David, Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill? All are examples of repeated, impressive failures, followed by massive, historical success.

The truth is, I don’t really enjoy working with leaders who have not yet been through failure. I like to work with people who have been knocked down so hard that they did not think they could get back up, because those are the ones who become the best leaders.

No matter what phase of life you are in or how major your failures have been in the past, you can decide today that you are going to be a leader. The first step is seeing yourself as a respected person; someone you can respect, your family can respect, and your community can respect. That takes integrity. Integrity is doing what is right, no matter how much it costs you personally or financially. And that will take courage. Courage is the inner fortitude to keep getting up no matter how much it hurts.

This is a call. You may not be seeking leadership, but leadership is seeking you.

How will you answer?

Written by Bonnie Hagemann

Photo by Farrel Nobel