A friend requested that I write a post on leadership. The request flattered me, but when I set to thinking about it, I realized how anemic my thoughts were. I am sure that I could say nothing that hasn’t already been said.
I certainly have my ideas about what it means to be a leader, or more accurately what it does NOT mean to be a leader. I think we’ve attached a lot of ideas to the word “leader” that it’s become quite top-heavy, ready to tip over.
It’s nothing new to say this, like I said: I do really believe that leading is first and foremost serving. A leader gives up freedom to lead. Leading takes responsibility, and that necessarily limits freedoms. Leading means choosing what some may not want, and that creates division. People unwilling to face conflict or lose freedom will struggle to lead.
My dad said one thing about leadership that sticks with me: “A leader is someone who sees what needs done and does it.” If you do that, dear reader, you are leading. This may seem simple. But being a leader isn’t just about fixing a problem. It’s also about identifying the problem. That can be hard to do. Many can identify the results of a problem, but not all of them can identify the source. Yet also, many can identify the source of the problem, but not all can see a way to fix it. What’s more, some can see the problem and see how to fix it, but some simply choose not to do anything about it. It takes seeing the source of the problem, a way to fix it, and a decision to do something about it.
I guess all I can say is that I am learning about what it means to lead. So, to my friend’s request, I can only offer what I’m learning.
I’ve started reading Jesus on Leadership, a book I found here at work. I shy away from books on leading mostly because I think many are based on top-heavy models. But I recognize that my biases may prevent me from being humble enough to learn, so I picked up this book. I’ve already learned a few things.
You can earn leadership, but it can only be received. You are not a leader until people choose to follow you. By following you they have given you their vote of confidence. They have given you the right to lead.
A leader is often given power, privilege, prestige, and position for leading, but these are all top-heavy parasites we’ve tacked on to leadership. Take those away and what is left? Often leaders pursue positions of leadership primarily for these tacked on benefits (“bennies,” I like to call them), but that just makes them selfish and egotistical. It’s hard NOT to do that. I know I do that. Even if a leader falls into leading for the right reasons, these bennies often come with it eventually; and then, it’s hard to refuse them. But eventually what happens is what is called the “overjustification effect.” When that happens, the thing by itself is no longer enough of a motivation. We no longer do it for the pleasure and love of it, but for the bennies. Think of sports players who played ball as kids because they loved to play. When they go pro, it’s possible that they will no longer love playing, love the game for its own sake, or love it for the people it connected them to.
I would love to hear your opinions about leading. I’m sure you have some. What can we learn from each other?