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Leadership Doesn’t Require a Suit:
Answering the Call and Becoming a Leader in the 21st Century

by Tim Hebert & Giselle LaFrance


The call for leadership has been heard often over the past year, resonating in messages of economic crisis, presidential campaigns and an optimism of change. Yet, like the infamous Bat Signal shining bright on a darkened, uncertain city, this call awaits a response. This call must be answered by Superheroes, but it will not be answered by Batman; nor will it be answered by national and global politicians. Instead, this call to leadership requires a response from the heroes with common powers, with common lives – it requires a response from you, the breadth of America, its business employers and employees.

In our homes, in our workplaces, in our states and across our nation, we are being assaulted on all fronts. The beliefs we held as facts are being exposed, the institutions we once trusted are faltering, the faith we once had in a “land of opportunity” has been shaken. Gone are the corporate structures, businesses and even workforce roles in which our parents and grandparents once found success. Our globalized world of the 21st century has become flat and the economy tough – and the domino effect is that knowledge is everything and 8-5 will barely get you by, never mind ahead.

John F. Kennedy – one of the most inspirational leaders and heroes of our time, someone who saw what this “land of opportunity” could be, said a quote famously spouted by every school child, a slogan for the dream of America: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” It is again a time for each of us to ask ourselves that crucial question and respond to that Bat Signal glaring into the night. It is an intimidating endeavor, yes; but it is also a response of hope and of promise for a brighter, stronger, more prosperous future. To find success, as individuals and as a nation, it is time we set our fears, our differences and even our own personal gains aside to answer this call to change and become the leaders – become the heroes – of our own time.


Many debate whether leaders are born or made. I strongly believe each of us is born with the makings of a great leader. Deep inside of us are a combination of attributes, characteristics and skills which we have spent a lifetime honing. Some stand out more than others – charisma, for example is a popular attribute in a leader. However, it is not the only one. A leader needs much more than charisma to be effective, and there are many more leaders out there who are not charismatic, but posses other characteristics to make them strong leaders. Leaders are not defined by one single attribute; rather they are characterized through a culmination of many. Success is created in how all of those attributes come together, how we utilize our stronger ones and how we work to cultivate our weaker ones.

Unfortunately, we can’t instantly become leaders by jumping into a telephone booth and throwing on our “Leadership Suits.” Instead, we have to sharpen our skills day by day.

The following are 5 ways in which we can begin to become leaders:

You are a Leader – To become a leader, you must first recognize that you already are a leader. Whether preparing your kids for school, presenting at a company meeting, becoming captain of your baseball league, or mentoring an intern or coworker – at some point each day you take on a leadership role. A quote from the Spiderman movies states, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Many people deny the recognition of their leadership and end up denying their responsibilities and also their potential. There is a leader inside of you – embrace, strengthen and achieve the potential of that leader.

Know Thyself – The greatest of leaders build their legacy upon knowing and honoring the values they stand for. Legendary leaders have put their lives on the line in defense of their values. They, as well as many unsung heroes – like mothers and fathers – also instill their values in others. Understand yourself, define your own values and live by them. Knowing what you stand for will make you a stronger, more consistent leader.

Leadership is Learning – As the world is constantly changing, the wisest leaders understand that they are both teachers and students. Remain a student, be willing to take risks and try new leadership approaches. Expand – and share – your knowledge through the books, models, methods and resources that will continue to cultivate your and others’ leadership abilities.

Practice, Practice, Practice – A good friend of mine once said, “It is better to sweat in peace than bleed in war.” Like soldiers practicing field scenarios, leaders are constantly pushing themselves, practicing, growing and preparing for moments they might not see. Practice leadership roles in different capacities and situations. Take risks, fail, rebound and seize that learning opportunity. Experience and diversity are always strong points, and you never know just when you might be called upon to act.

Enjoy the Journey – Becoming a leader is a journey. Just when you think you’ve arrived, you’ve actually just begun. Enjoy the experience. Go where the road takes you, or, better yet, forge your own. It will not always be easy and the path will be windy, untamed and narrow at points, but becoming a leader is the most rewarding role you will ever embrace – enjoy it! Stop, explore, learn and be appreciative along the way.

In our century, in an uncertain economy and an uncertain future, the call for leadership has never been more apparent. Our success lies not in the hands of our parents, our bosses, our politicians or even our Saturday morning Superheroes. Our success lies in the ability each of us – individually and as a united whole – to take the reins, seize our potential and become leaders - to become superheroes. Great success never comes overnight – we have all been reminded recently of hero Martin Luther King Jr.’s 60+ year struggle for equality – but it does come. One victory, one leader, one hero at a time can build a world of opportunity and prosperity.


The Authors

Tim Hebert

Giselle LaFrance

Tim Hebert is the CEO of Atrion Networking Corporation, a leading provider of IT solutions and managed services across New England. Tim has spoken nationally on topics including leadership, finding and retaining talent, encouraging your team, network security and utility network thinking. Most recently Tim presented for Cisco, Banco do Brasil and the OSPMI (Ocean State Project Management Institute). Contact Tim via or 401-736-6400 or by visiting .

Giselle LaFrance is the Communications Specialist for Atrion Networking Corporation as well as the Tech Collective, Rhode Island’s IT and Bioscience Industry Association. Giselle has helped to garner exposure for these industries and has published articles on business and academic collaboration and industry potential. Contact Giselle at or 401-736-6400 .

Many more articles in Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2009 by Tim Hebert & Giselle LaFrance. All rights reserved.

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