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Brian Scudamore is founder and CEO of O2E Brands, including home-service companies such as 1-800-GOT-JUNK

Some of the best leaders aren’t executives or politicians. They don’t run multibillion-dollar companies or coach NFL teams. They’re regular people, like our truck team members, call centre agents or corporate employees. Together, they represent the small ‘L’ leadership team: the people on the ground who inspire others to shoot for the moon and reach for the goals that make us all successful, together.

You don’t need to be in a corner office to be a leader. In fact, those who make it to the big ‘L’ leadership team are just experts in their field – not necessarily exceptional leaders of people.

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There’s a difference between a “leadership” title and leadership as a skill – and one is definitely more important than the other. Here’s why:

Small ‘L’ leaders keep a cool head

We’ve all seen someone on a power trip (and it’s even worse when that person is your boss). They think leadership means ordering people around and being the smartest person in the room. In reality, true leaders do the exact opposite. As our chief operating officer Erik Church says, “Leaders listen to understand before speaking to be understood.”

I’ve been there. When our company started to take off, I thought I was the only one who knew what was best for the business and should have the final say on everything, from PR and sales to business development. My inflated ego refused to admit that I needed guidance. I should have turned to my team of experts for advice. It wasn’t until employees started to resent my helicopter style that I realized a lesson in leadership was needed.

It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at the top of the corporate ladder or just stepping onto the first rung: leadership has nothing to do with being the boss. It’s about collaborating with your peers, asking questions and treating everyone as equals. Leadership is about admitting when you need support and knowing how to accept it – no matter where you’re at in your career.

Small ‘L’ leaders focus on people, not title

If you’ve always dreamed of making it to the leadership table (whether as an executive or an entrepreneur), you’re not alone: 91 per cent of millennials want to reach a position of leadership. But unless you actually know how to be a leader, an official title won’t make a difference.

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During the recession, our company almost went bankrupt. To make matters worse, I hired someone I thought would support us back into the black, without thinking about the long-term impact on my team. Our culture quickly started to suffer and it became clear that I’d made a terrible judgment call. We let this person go, but the damage was done: I hadn’t been the leader they deserved.

In an office-wide meeting one day, one of our most successful franchise partners asked, “Brian, are you the right person to lead the company?” I was crushed. I had failed my team and I didn’t feel like I’d earned my leadership title. Since then, I’ve learned that being called the CEO has very little to do with leading a company.

Effective leaders keep their eye on the bigger picture – not the corner office or fancy title. They’re more concerned about their team than about climbing the corporate ladder.

Every one of us has the strength to be a great leader. It takes courage, commitment and the ability to put others first. I’m not saying you shouldn’t strive to be a part of the big ‘L’ leadership team one day. But before you get there, I encourage you to become a small ‘L’ leader first – by supporting those around you, by being humble, and by leading by example.

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