A series on leadership can hardly begin without a discussion on what leadership means. Far greater minds than mine have wrestled with the many questions surrounding who is a leader. In the reading and listening I have done, I recognise the core elements that seem to come through from several sources.
A leader may have a title but if they have no influence over those they are meant to lead, it is a title only. Conversely, there are many leaders wielding great influence (for good and bad) who don’t have a title or position. John C. Maxwell’s definition of a leader puts this simply: “Leadership is influence.”
Who is it in your life that you have influence over? When I reflect on this in my own life, the most obvious answer is my daughter. Being a parent is synonymous with being a leader in my mind. It is by far the greatest leadership calling I have. I need to remember that when the demands and responsibilities of other positions crowd in.
It is also easy to come up with answers in the defined positions I hold. It is clearly marked out who I have assigned influence over- my students and colleagues I oversee in my paid work and the leaders and mothers in my MOPS roles. I feel the weight of this, especially in my new MOPS role. To be commissioned into a position of influence at a State level humbles me and daunts me.
I sometimes stop and wonder about whom I have influence over without ever realising it. Our online world allows access to others we will never meet. My words have the ability to influence someone around the world while I sleep or go about my day. Closer to home, I meet with friends, acquaintances and even strangers. What influence do I have there?
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. —John Quincy Adams
Many in positions of leadership have assumed their title gives them the right to be waited on and to lord it over those in their influence. Somehow the title imbues them with greater worth than others. My own view of leadership goes against this, however, I may have to battle my pride on this matter at times.
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant. —Max DePree
To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less. —Andre Malraux
No matter how prestigious or non-existent the title, a leader is a servant of those they lead. It pays not to forget that.
For me, I look to the Bible and Jesus’ example of this to inform the kind of leader I long to be. Throughout the Scriptures, Jesus demonstrates this servant leadership. He lays everything down for those he was leading. He expected no special treatment. He went against social norms to reach out to those shunned and to demonstrate how to lead others- like washing his disciples’ feet (John 13). All of this was born out of love, even for those who would kill him. As a Christian in leadership, I want that love to be the defining factor in my leadership journey too. I especially want this to be true with those that I may not naturally get along with.
Where there is no vision, the people perish. —Proverbs 29:18
It is a leader’s responsibility to set the vision for those they influence. It is not enough to hold the vision, but it needs to be communicated in such a way that people can catch it and run with it.
is the capacity to translate vision into reality. —Warren Bennis
You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case. —Ken Kesey
Before a vision can be communicated, it has to be well developed and certain in your own mind. It requires seeing beyond the here and now, creativity and wisdom. In my positions, it also requires a close relationship with God to hear from Him.
Made and developed
The idea that a leader is born can be a tough ingrained belief to shift. Leaders are made and developed. It is easy to look at people who seem to be able to gather people naturally, have “bossy” tendencies or are extroverts and label them “born leaders”. There may well be natural inclinations there but they will come to nought if not developed. I have often discounted my own ability to be a leader due to my introverted nature. Reflections on that will take a whole post of their own to explore!
A true leader seeks to raise up other leaders rather than see them as a threat. Their eyes are always seeking who could take their place and on the lookout for potential leaders. This is close to my heart in the MOPS positions I hold. I want to spend more time drawing this topic out more fully in upcoming posts.
For me, these are the core elements of leadership. So many other aspects can be drawn in to fill out the picture but these are my essentials. Maybe in your own life, you have recognised areas of leadership from this list that you hadn’t recognised previously. Perhaps it has highlighted areas to be worked on like this exercise has for me. Your list of essentials may differ from mine. I would love to hear about any of these in the comments.