HOW LEADERS ARE BORN IN THE MOST ORDINARY OF MEN
I’m not sure when I realized that, indeed, I am a leader. I do know it was a liberating and humbling moment at the same time.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked in positions of leadership most of my adult life, including a newspaper editor and church pastor. Heck, I served a term on our borough Council once. Right now I help to manage a group home for developmentally disabled adults.
But those are positions of authority. And positional leadership is the least of its kind. As a positional leader, [some people might follow you because, well, you’re the boss. But that may be the only reason they follow.
A leader’s real goal, however, is to give value to the people around her or him. A real leader wants to earn commitment from others, draw them alongside, mentor and empower them, then turn them loose to change the world with their gifts and talents. Yes, even to gather followers of their own.
I like the dialogue in the Revolutionary War movie, The Crossing, which depicts George Washington’s attack on the Hessian barracks at Trenton. In one scene Washington is planning the attack with his fellow generals when Horatio Gage criticizes Washington’s leadership and tells him to give up the fight.
Quietly Washington acknowledges the youth of his troops and their losses, including the many desertions. Of the remaining soldiers, though, he tells Gage: “And I – not you, General Gage – I command this army. And if I, a bumbling Virginia farmer, should decide to lead them into hell, they will follow me into hell.”
In a single statement, Washington describes a loyalty that is more than a nod to rank or position of authority.
To what do you attribute your foundation of leadership?
Wait. Maybe the first issue is really one of self-recognition. Are you convinced, first of all, of your role as a leader?
I suspect that the majority of folks identify leaders mainly as persons who hold some kind of office, carry some kind of title.
In contrast, one of my teachers, leadership guru John Maxwell, observes, “Leadership is influence. Nothing more. Nothing less.” That’s the clincher. If you exert any influence on anyone’s life, in that capacity you are a leader.
Recently I was proposing to facilitate a roundtable conversation with our group-home staff. I called it, “Leveraging the Crisis,” focusing on positive and creative leadership during the Corona pandemic. One of our administrators reviewed the program’s content and remarked that it seemed geared toward leaders, in contrast to direct-support staff on the floor.
I answered him that, indeed, it is aimed at leaders. Not just at managers and others of title alone, but at those who practice an everyday influence on the individuals in our care. We do it by offering guidance, wisdom, concern, encouragement, by everyday words and everyday actions, I was grateful when he responded, “Understood.”
Here’s the point. In some way, I’m guessing, we all influence somebody. I encourage you to reflect: Are you a mom or dad? Or a grandparent? How about a teacher in a classroom or online? Maybe a counselor or coach. Or you simply belong to a work crew or team. You get the idea. In whatever way you interact with others, insofar as they may look to you for insight, clarity, counsel, direction -- to model growth growth – you are a leader.
That’s the light that came on in my head as a husband, dad, team member, friend. My positional authority, if there even is any, matters little. What is invaluable is the influence I am entrusted with as I engage in relationships with the people around me. I’m happy that light finally came on when it did.
Think about it. Let that reality crystallize within you, too, if it hasn’t by now. Consider the privilege of investing in the life of another to bring them value. Live it and grow in it accordingly.