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28 Jul 2020

The Alchemist leader makes magic

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An alchemist is a person who can transmute metals. A leader uses alchemy to transform people. In ancient times alchemists were considered to be wizards because they attempted to make special elixirs that gave everlasting life and cured sickness. Leaders are modern day alchemists…they empower people to create their own elixirs. Alchemist leaders know that when people creates their own elixirs they can become leaders in their own right.  The alchemist leader does not lead because of the power and the glory… neither for the status or recognition… they lead because their sole objective is to make leaders.

Think off a leader that you have had in the past who you respected. Why did you respect them? Was it because of their status? Probably not! Was it because of their knowledge and experience? Maybe! If you think about it, I will wager the reason why you respected this leader is because they respected you. It is so simple. Leading is about valuing people.

It doesn’t matter if the leader has a title or authority or an official team, somehow people feel they want to follow them simply because of the way they are. Thy have a code of conduct which is transparent, open, honest, clear and very cool which elicits trust from others.

“The leader is best when people barely know they exist when the work is done and the aim fulfilled the people say “we did it ourselves”


Mythical thinking

Leaders are born not made

There are some people it is true that are born with leadership vibes. Even in kindergarten they seem to be the ones that other kids want to be around. But because some people have a knack for leadership doesn’t mean we cannot learn from them. Leadership can be learnt. Most of us may be seduced into thinking that leadership is above us. If when you think of a leader you think of someone who is larger than life…bigger, stronger, more handsome than mere mortals, noble and true…that every time he or she speaks people become mesmerized… you’re thinking about the movies! In everyday life the leader is the one that speaks up for someone else. The youngster that helps an old person across the road. The person who is providing for their family. We are all leaders and we are all followers. Most of us have never been taught that leaders come in all shapes and sizes. We are left with the notion that leadership is not for the likes of you and me. If you take a look at your own life… you are the leader!

 Leadership is a rare skill

We tend to think that leadership is for others because we were seldom given instructions on leadership. If we happen to take a class on leadership or we brushed up against leadership it is presenting in such a way as to reinforce the notion that it isn’t for us. The undertones is that leadership is for the elite. Those to the manor born. Those who were born for the sole purpose of leading. Those that have gone to the right schools and universities which supported their leadership ways. If you were born to a poor family then how could you be a leader? If you did not have a good education then how can you communicate? Yet history is not a hostage to conventions. History creates leader from all quarters. Gandhi. Martin Luther King. John F Kennedy. Nelson. Napoleon and you.

 Leadership only exist at the top of the company

Lead is what leaders do. If you are waiting to get to a position of status to turn on your leadership charms… it may not happen. Real leaders it seems to me do not wait for a title nor does leadership need a title. You find leaders throughout a company. Mentoring, coaching, training, guiding, supporting, and showing others the way.

What is leadership?

Some people think that being a leader is glamourous job. They go for it with naked ambition. They crave the power and the glory only for themselves. They think that all they have to do is fire orders and people will follow. If only that were true! It may have been the case in times gone by. But it isn’t the case today. People are more discerning. They challenge more. People do not care what you have…they are only concerned with what you do. The alchemist leader leads by example.

“Leader are what leader do. People follow them because of how they feel when they follow them. They get addicted the feeling. It is like a drug”. Simon Sinek

Manager’s v Leaders

In a nutshell a manager is a person who does things right and a leader is a person who does the right thing! Their skills overlap….organising, forecasting, planning, staffing, delegating… yet there is one essential difference between a manager and a leader. A manager is concerned with processes and systems. A leader is concerned with people. In a company that grows managers the managers do whatever it takes as long as they get the results the company needs.  In a company that develops leaders the philosophy is if you take care of the people as your main priority then the people will take care of the work.

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

— Stephen R. Covey

Leaders are true to themselves first and foremost

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. Companies that do not rate leadership may actually see the alchemist leader as a trouble maker. Are you the one that is always asking questions? Leaders go against convention. That’s what alchemist leaders do otherwise there would be no reason to lead.

You are not an alchemist leader if you sell yourself short or sell other people down the river. You would not be able to live with yourself if you went against your values. Standing up for what you believe in requires great courage. It means you have to go it alone sometimes. It means you may have to say things that people do not want to hear. But although it is risky business it is the very ‘thing’ that people are looking for. People want to see what you are made off. They want to know what you stand for or if you will crash and burn at the first hurdle. If you believe in yourself you give people around you permission to believe in themselves also. They are encouraged by your strength and conviction. In order for this to happen you need to show up and show them exactly who you are. If you show them yours… they will show you theirs!

The cost of leadership

When you decide you are an alchemist leader you will need to make personal changes. You will have to evaluate your values, belief and conduct to make sure that you set your standards high.

  • You will find it takes time to invest in yourself.
  • It will cost you money and effort to attend training, to buy books and to listen to talks on leadership.
  • It may cost you friends and colleagues because as you commit to yourself and move on in your quest you will have to leave some people whose values do not match yours behind.
  • It is lonely to be an alchemist leader. You have heard the expression “it is lonely at the top” so you better be clear why you want to be an alchemist leader.
  • Being an alchemist leader will cost you your options and your freedom. Because as a leader you only get to do what is best for your people.

You learn to lead by leading. You never learn to lead by talking about it

How an alchemist leader start

  • Develop yourself. The first person to work on is yourself. You need to know why you work and how you work and what conditions get the best out of you.
  • Lead yourself. What are your quests for the next 3 – 5 years? What is your vision and how are you going to get there.
  • Lead others. Start with a buddy, then move on to be a mentor for an intern. Hone your alchemy skills here.
  • Lead others to develop others. When you are a leader of a project always encourage the development and the sharing of skills in your team.
  • Lead others to lead others. When you are in the position develop a strategy were leaders lead others to lead.

What alchemist leader do….

In order to get the best out of people you have to really like people. While managers’ study charts and spreadsheets. Leaders study people. While managers’ focus on targets and results. Leaders focus on the behaviour that drives results. There is a vast difference.

When you focus on people and you listen to them you get to understand what makes them tick. You as an alchemist leader get to understand what conditions need to be in place to allow people to grow and glow.

Let me ask you a few of questions. These are random questions… but work with me…

-How does it feel in your body after you have gone for a run or a long hike?

-How does it feel when you achieve a goal?

-How does it feel when someone gives you a present or remembers something about you?

-How does it feel when someone says thank you for helping them when you were not expecting it?

-How does it feel when someone takes your advice and give you the credit for it?

I know the answers to all of the above…you feel awesome!

When we feel good about ourselves we releases certain drugs within us. The drugs in question are endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. These drugs are natural and are naturally released under the right circumstances. Alchemist leaders somehow knows this fact. It doesn’t matter how they know… intuitively, by accident, by design, by osmosis or by learning… it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that they activate these elements that reside in every one of us to create the elixir which enables people to give their best? The ideas around bringing out the best in people is nothing new. It’s just that for the alchemist leader this is the only objective. It is the basis of everything they do. The alchemist leader never forgets that without people there are no followers without followers then there is no leadership.


You release endorphins after a long workout or a physical challenge.  Only a few people are work shy. Most people go to work because they want to work and succeed in what they do. If you provide people with a compelling vision, the reasons to believe and the training to achieve the vision they will go for it. People do not like wishy washy instructions. Neither do they like people who are not clear about the directions. Indecisiveness causes stress and anxiety in people. Stress releases cortisol and this drug can make people ill. Sick people do not work well.

How it’s done

-Alchemist leaders see further than others see. They see before others see. If you get on a plane you want the pilot to have a vision. They know where they are going and they take you with them.

-Alchemist leaders create a vision and get people to buy into it by showing them that by achieving the collective vision they will realise their individual goals.

-Alchemist leaders make the work challenging so that people work up a sweat. They also give them the training and the tools to do the job so that they can stay the course.

Dopamine and serotonin

When people succeed, the alchemist leader allows them to bask in the full glory and soak up the limelight. This is very important because it allows for the release of dopamine and serotonin. These are the drugs produced naturally by the body when you feel pride and a sense of achievement. One of the things that people absolutely hate is when someone takes the credit for something that they didn’t do.

How it’s done

-Alchemist leaders notice when people do a good job so that they can be recognised.

-Alchemist leaders delegate regularly thus giving people the opportunity to be stretched and to achieve.

-Alchemist leaders praise people very often. People may say that they don’t like to be praised. That is not true. What people don’t like is to be praised badly. It makes them feel uncomfortable. Alchemist leaders do it like this: they make the praise very personal to the person. They make it specific by detailing what the person did and how their actions contribute to the vision. They are right on time with their praise because they know that when you catch someone in the act of doing good work it releases a mega dose of hormones. They also make sure that the praise is from the heart and not because a manual or a training course tells them that it’s a good thing to do from time to time. If the alchemist leader doesn’t feel it they won’t do it!


The alchemist leader make sure that people celebrate success. Time is never lost when people celebrate success. They encourage people to tell their stories and show their war wounds. This is good because it creates connections and bonding in the team. When people feel connected to each other it releases oxytocin.

How it’s done

-Alchemist leaders allow people to talk.

-Alchemist leaders roll up your sleeves when the going gets tough and show that they are not above hard work or getting their hands dirty.

-Alchemist leader show that they are human. Everyone has to do stuff. Unless you are Donald Trump, there are some basic task in life that you have to do. We all have to go to the supermarket or clean our homes. These chores are universal and what unites us in a way. The alchemist leader shows that they are human first and a leader second…

The alchemist leader knows about these hormones that reside in the body. They know how to activate them and how to work with them to good effect. The alchemist leader motivates people from the inside. When a person experiences those good feelings they feel ‘on a high’ and they want more and they will follow the leader to the ends of the earth to get more.

The alchemist leader is born and is made. They make themselves into the kind of leader that develops people to realise the potential that lives within them. The alchemist leader creates the vision and the environment where people can learn, grow and have fun. The alchemist leadership knows the magic formulae that make people want to contribute. It cannot be found in a book, in models, in a theory or in rules or regulations.

It can only be found in the people themselves.