So you want to be a leader or at least to improve your leadership skills. Well, first off, let me congratulate you because that is one of the greatest goals a human being can have. To improve your leadership capability is to improve yourself and to expand your ability to influence your organization in a positive way. But, hold on, what are we really talking about? Which leadership model is driving your aspirations?
What often comes to mind when we hear the word “leadership” are concepts such as: “taking charge,” “exercising authority,” and “issuing commands.” We also might think of receiving recognition, gaining prestige, and being honored by others for our leadership prowess. Also tied to our mental model of leadership might be the ideas of exercising power, forcing action, and getting people to do what we want them to do.
What if our starting point is wrong? What if, rather than defining leadership by the authority and power of the leader, we define it by the impact that leader has on those who are led? What if we talk instead about influence? What if we add the adjective “positive” and come up with “positive influence“? Now let’s break it down even more and define positive as “healthy,” healthy that is for the one being influenced, because remember, we’re trying to define leadership from the perspective of the led.
Let’s go a step further. What if we define healthy as functioning the way human beings were intended to function? That gets into what is “natural” and assumes that all is not natural. There are destructive, binding, demoralizing influences at work in the lives of people. These are forces that hinder their becoming fully human. They are inhibiting forces such as fears, self-doubts, self-destructive habits, poorly formed mental maps and so on, all of which are destructive to the individual being able to become his or her true self.
What if leadership is all about helping people discover their life (their ZOE as the Greeks would say)? What if it’s not about the person we call the leader at all? What if the leader is merely a catalyst to the growth and development of others? What if it’s neither about creating an empire for oneself nor about conquering and achieving self-serving goals? What if we would instead define leadership as coaching forth the potential in others?
Is it possible that we know nothing about some of the greatest leaders the human race has ever had the privilege to have in our midst? Since they dedicated their lives to building others up, they never became a part of history… at least of recorded history. They are the unrecognized catalysts for the development of others. How many great leaders do we pass by every day and never know it? One thing is certain… those whose lives have been transformed by these leaders know who the leader for their life is or was.
Many of our so-called political leaders today are anything but leaders in the sense that I am outlining in this post. The entire focus of their career is to booster their own public image. They use the media to create an artificial image of themselves to fit the image their polls tell them the people want to see. Like the backdrops of some of the old Hollywood movies of mountains and trees which are obviously mere paintings, these leaders are phonies. Their leadership is skin deep, propped up by the glitter and glamor of media-driven imagery.
I think our society today is hungry for real leaders, men or women who forget themselves and invest in the development of others. Call it spiritual leadership, call it holistic leadership, call it transformational leadership, call it authentic leadership… call it what you will… but the core idea is that it’s not about the glory of the leader as much as it is about the leader’s commitment to raising up people to personal and professional levels they never dreamed they could have reached.
Questions for Reflection
- To what extent do you think our definition of “leadership” affects organizational outcomes?
- What kind of leader do you think people are looking for today?
- Is it possible for a leader to be committed both to bottom-line financial goals and also to developing people?
Greg Waddell provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.
Photo from SantaBanta.com