Monday, December 12, 2011

Leadership is a Gift

Executive Summary:
Simply realizing and accepting that our leadership role is given to us by those we lead can change the way we behave, the way we lead, and make us better leaders.

The Rest of the Story:
Go to a public library, school library, or your own at home and pick up any book on the subject of any revolution.  In that book will be a lesson on leadership.  The lesson is simple.  People follow leaders only as long as they are willing to follow those leaders.

Granted, different leaders throughout history have come across their leadership roles in many diversified ways.  They have also maintained their leadership with a broad spectrum of strategies ranging from divine wisdom to tyrannical fear.  Even in the extreme cases, though, people follow only so long as they are willing to accept the leader’s direction.

Therefore, whether we are leaders because we have been assigned a leadership role, because we have been voted into position, or because people simply come to us for guidance, we are leaders because those who follow us have accepted that we are their leaders.  Take that thought a step further, and we can say that our leadership position, assigned or otherwise, fundamentally, is a gift from those who follow us.

That gift may be earned or unearned.  That gift can be rescinded.  All our followers need to do to take it away is stop following.

Take a moment to consider the assertion that I am making.

What thoughts or questions come to mind when considering that your leader status is a gift?  What have you done to earn that continued status?  What are you going to do today to deserve that status?  What are you going to do tomorrow?

By-the-way, this all applies to those of us who do not hold a leadership title, but are leaders none-the-less because others seek our guidance.  Consider that others seek your guidance because of what you do for them, or what you represent.  Now consider how much more influential you might be if you answered the questions in the previous paragraph.

The gift of leadership can be exploited.  Certainly many political and world leaders, current and throughout history, have exploited the gift for their own interests.  Some business leaders do so too and sometimes end up in jail for it. 

Even if we don’t exploit it, many business leaders fail to live up to the leadership gift.  The lowest state of leadership is when people follow because they have to.  When people follow only because it is slightly less trouble than refusing to follow, it isn’t really leadership; it’s just getting by on complacence at best.

Many monarchies from the European Middle Ages have given us the lesson that assuming that peoples’ purpose is to serve the leader is a poor assumption.  These leaders are often the poorest examples.  Many of them are the leaders that also show up in those various history books about a revolution.

Alternatively, those leaders whom we hold in the highest regard operate, or operated, under the assumption that the leader’s purpose is to serve his or her followers.  When we accept that leadership is a gift from our followers, and we strive to be worthy of that gift, we naturally find ourselves operating in a “servant-leadership” capacity.

One who would exploit a leadership position will be concerned with how to appear worthy, or at least less unworthy than a competitor.  While appearances and resulting perceptions can certainly influence reality, true leaders are foremost concerned with doing right by followers.

I don’t know how it might be for others, but when I sit down with the “leadership is a gift” idea in mind and ask myself what I could or should do with that gift, I experience an explosion of ideas.  It causes me to imagine ways in which work, or life, or performance might be better for those who are counting on me to make it so.  I realize questions about how things are or are not working, which I can seek to answer or get answered, which then leads to more ideas for how to make things better. 

It changes my focus from what I need from others to what others need from me.  I won’t claim to be a superior leader, but I do know that people have told me directly that they recognize and appreciate the shift in focus.

The acceptance or realization that leadership is a privileged responsibility given to us by those who would follow can inspire insight into what we can do to really make a difference for those whom we lead.  At least it does for me, and so I decided to share it here.

Stay wise, friends.

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