The Biggest Leadership Lesson Learnt From My Father

Jun 15, 2017 1 Min Read
Father and son
Everyone Can Be a Leader, according to Roshan's Father

Fathers are critical to the leadership success of their children. According to leadership guru George Kohlrieser, both boys and girls learn leadership from their father. Hence, we can conclude that fathers play a very critical role in building leadership skills, both in boys and girls. In fact, according to research,

Fathers who care for, nurture, and play with their babies raise children with higher IQs and with better language and cognitive skills. New research shows that fathers may have an even greater impact on children’s language development than mothers. The more time fathers spend in enriching, stimulating play with their child—such as playing pretend or sharing stories—the better the child’s math and reading scores are at 10 and 11 years old

As Father’s Day draws near, I started to think about some leadership lessons I learnt from my father. My father had such an important and profound effect on who I am today. There were so many insights on leadership learnt while growing up. However, I think one lesson which my father consistently reinforced through his action and his own life is this: Everyone can become a leader.

As a young boy growing up, I would see my father urge many folks to take up leadership positions, even though they would protest and declare their inability to be a leader. Yet, my father would consistently urge and encourage them on and ultimately, they would prove him right. And I began to believe that everyone was cut out to be a leader.
Read also : The Science Of Building Leaders: Part 1 and The Science Of Building Leaders: Part 2

Are you made to be a leader?

Whenever I’m involved in discussions on leadership, occasionally a voice from the audience will pop up and declare:

“I’m not made to be a leader; it’s not for me.”

In most cases, these voices belong to those who place leadership on a very high pedestal. They will look at past and present great leaders and believe that they’re not at all like those iconic figures. Because of this, they are convinced that they’re not made to be a leader. As I learnt from my father, nothing could be further from the truth.

The question of what it means to be a leader is still a hot topic and with academic research offering over 350 definitions of ‘leadership’, there’s at least one thing about it that we know for sure: there is no single way, no magic formula that transforms someone into a leader. Just like travelling, there are many ways to reach any destination.

A reserved leader

I recall one conversation with someone who liked the idea of “becoming a leader one day”, but who felt that they were too quiet and reserved to be one. As my father used to urge others on, I decided to urge him along by mentioning the achievements of people such as Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Steve Wozniak, and Elon Musk. Energetic extroverts are hardly a phrase to describe any of these leaders.

Although we laud these names today, none of them started off as greats, and none of them had it in mind to become great leaders. As I chatted back and forth with this reluctant leader, it struck me that there’s a problem with how leadership and success are presented.

Oftentimes, we talk about leadership and success as though they are qualities that should be fully attained almost immediately. So it’s not that people don’t believe that leadership can’t be nurtured, rather they believe that a leader is something that you have to be now before the quality is then nurtured and refined.

Everyone can be a leader

Here’s the twist: 

everyone has it in them to be a leader.

Okay, I can hear you thinking, “But I’m nothing like Lincoln or Roosevelt or an MLK*”. Neither were they to begin with. And while greatness is a fine thing to acquire if your passion and perseverance lead you there, leadership isn’t necessarily about being an epoch-defining icon. (*MLK- in case you didn’t get that reference, it’s short for Martin Luther King)

In the majority of cases, leadership is about impacting the lives of those who will go on – or inspire others to go on – to make great things happen. Leadership is primarily about having clarity of goals, clarity of where we are today in relation to that goal and finally influencing others in positive ways that enable everyone to achieve those goals. As my father showed me early in life, leadership is truly about influence that creates a ripple effect.

Key characteristics related to leadership

How can you tell that you already possess qualities that are associated with leadership? Well, there are a few signs that show your inherent leadership potential. The following list is by no means exhaustive:

  • You’ve coached someone in a particular skill or practice.
  • You’ve given advice to someone about their personal or professional lives.
  • You’ve empowered someone to realise their own potential.
  • You take time to listen to people and are interested in what they have to say.
  • You’ve looked at a process or practice, thought that it could be done better, and looked for ways to improve how things are done.
  • You’re invested in relationships and often look for ways in which you can be of service to others.
  • You take time to reflect on how you interact with others and whether there are ways in which you can enhance those interactions.
  • You are passionate about a cause or a mission.
  • You’re inclined towards supporting and serving others, but don’t think you have it in you to be a leader (in other words, you’re modest and humble).

If you recognise yourself as being associated with one or more of the above, guess what? You’ve already shown yourself to be a leader. Yes, I hear you again…

Let’s sprinkle a little salt on the sugar. Just because you’re a leader doesn’t automatically make you a great leader, or even a good one. Just as there are lousy car mechanics or accountants, there are surely lousy leaders out there. (and in Malaysia, where I am currently residing, we can definitely identify a ton of "useless" political leaders!)

But – (you knew that was coming) – that’s where leadership development and learning comes into play. Everyone has it in them to be a good (and even a great) leader, because everyone has leadership potential. However, just like any other quality, it needs to be cultivated, nurtured and refined.

Nurturing your leadership potential

Whether you are quiet and reserved or loud and flamboyant is irrelevant – these traits don’t affect the quality of your leadership potential. What does affect your potential is how you nurture what you already have within you, and how you can see yourself serving others in the best way you know how.

Of course, I haven’t forgot your final caveat, so let me answer that now: the best leaders are also followers – the two are not mutually exclusive. Abraham Lincoln was a master at knowing when to lead and when to seek direction, and Elon Musk doesn’t have an army of smart people around him for no reason. So, if everyone became good or great leaders, it wouldn’t mean that there’d be no followers.
This podcast might interest you: Raise Your Game: Abraham Lincoln “From Failed Leader To Great President”


Baby Roshan with his father, mum and little sister. His father had a significant impact on his life and leadership

Final thoughts

My father showed me clearly that leadership is primarily about influencing others in positive ways: it doesn’t necessarily refer to marching out in front holding up the banner.

In fact, many great leaders today are those who are quietly influencing others without much fanfare at all. And that was the greatest gift I received from my father – knowing that everyone can and should work tirelessly to become great leaders.

As a father himself, Roshan wishes all fathers a blessed and Happy Father’s Day. Being a father is never an easy task, but it makes a huge difference to the lives of your children, so keep working on it. Just like leadership, everyone can be a great father.

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Roshan is the Founder and “Kuli” of the Leaderonomics Group of companies. He believes that everyone can be a leader and "make a dent in the universe," in their own special ways. He is featured on TV, radio and numerous publications sharing the Science of Building Leaders and on leadership development. Follow him at


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