Leadership is absolutely a choice. But wait a minute! How is it a choice? Isn't it something you are born with? What if someone has a commanding presence? A booming voice? Or isn't leadership something you can learn? What if someone is a great communicator? The world's best planner? A stellar organizer? A master tactician?
Let's be clear. A leader can have all the attributes and skills that make a leader more effective but they are not a leader unless they choose to be one. To choose to be a leader is not a one time choice. Leadership is making leadership decisions as they occur. And leadership decisions are not simply what to do. A leader must choose to take risks for the team and mission, accept the burden of responsibility for the team and mission, and sacrifice self for the team and mission. Unless a leader is willing to do all of the above, none of their natural abilities or hard-won skills will make them a true leader.
For example, imagine a leader that has been in leadership positions for their entire career. They are able, experienced, and have decades of success behind them. Then they show up to work one day and think to themselves... "I'd rather be at home drinking some coffee and spending time with my kids". The same issues that they used to attack energetically are becoming a tiresome bore. They began to resent having to deal with problems that break their routine. The leader is burnt out, tired, and becoming complacent. Despite all their experience and skills, the leader is becoming ineffective because they have stopped choosing to be a leader. A young, inexperienced, but eager leader that wants to step up and take on the challenges, risks, and responsibilities of leading will replace them.
Or you may have a leader that "fakes the funk". Someone that enjoys being in "in charge". They are good organizers, great planners, and really really good at giving orders. But a phony leader will always be exposed simply because leadership is defined by a leader's response to crisis. How does a phony leader fake taking risks? Or fake accepting the crushing burden of responsibility? How do they fake sacrifice for the team? These things cannot be faked. When the first bullet flies, a phony leader will go into survival mode. When called on to the carpet for their team, they will blame others. And when they need to sacrifice more for the mission, they will be unable to do it. It won't be worth it for them.
I served as a platoon leader when I was young and single. Many of the risks I took were "easy" for me. But some of my fellow leaders and troops had wives and children. Even now I marvel at their courage. I wonder, could I be that same leader now, now that I have young children of my own? Priorities change leaders. They make certain choices harder.
Leadership is selfless. It literally requires self-sacrifice. Unless you are willing to put the team and mission ahead of yourself, you cannot make the choices that define you as a leader. Whether you are burnt out, selfish, or just plain a coward; you cannot fake the funk.