“The led must not be compelled; they must be able to choose their own leader.” – Albert Einstein
What if you aren’t really leading anyone?
Before you get too defensive, I also asked myself this question. When I did, it occurred to me that I might be a just little bit delusional. I thought of leadership as a set of traits that I possessed or a role I inherited due to my position in the organization. In other words, leadership was something I was doing or producing.
It was an identity.
Then it occurred to me…
Leadership isn’t something I possess. “Leader” is not a title or identity I can bestow on myself. If I am leading, it isn’t because I have certain traits or abilities even though they might help me become a leader.
I am only leading when there are people who have made a conscious decision to trust me with an important part of their lives.
And that’s not an exaggeration because for most of us, really trusting and following someone in the context of our work or other significant areas of our lives is a pretty big deal.
Leadership doesn’t belong to me.
Maybe you think I’m stating the obvious but bear with me. What are the implications of this paradigm shift? When you realize that leadership is a gift given by others, not something you can possess or demand, it changes your perspective on what leadership is and who qualifies as a leader.
I can’t lead you without your permission.
Oh sure I may be able to coerce you to follow my direction and fulfill the tasks I have assigned but you are not accepting my leadership. You are simply acting to avoid the consequences of not doing the work or seeking the benefits for completing the work.
I will have access to your hands, maybe even your head, but not your heart. And that’s where all the best stuff happens. The result is compliance without passion or engagement.
Leadership is a choice.
The first question I must ask myself is, “do I truly want to lead?”. Am I ready for the responsibility that goes with gaining the trust and support of others? Do I truly appreciate and am I ready to deal with the consequences of their decision? Am I willing to do what it takes to be worthy of this gift?
The word leadership may have lost its meaning in our vocabulary due to a serious case of overuse but it remains a very real and vital responsibility. If you really want to lead, then you must accept all that goes with it. Otherwise call yourself something else like “The Boss”, “Big Wig” “Grand Poobah” or “The Big Cheese” and move on.
Leadership is a gift.
- People give leadership to someone they trust.
- People give leadership to someone they respect.
- People give leadership to someone who is competent.
- People give leadership to someone who sets the example.
- People give leadership to someone who provides a purpose.
- People give leadership to someone who shows appreciation.
- People give leadership to someone who makes them feel valued.
- People give leadership to someone who offers an inspiring vision.
All stuff we know, right? But that someone has to be you!
Leadership isn’t one and done.
People don’t accept your leadership as a lifelong commitment. They choose every day. They choose with each test or challenge and with every risk you ask them to take. They choose with each promise you make and with every action they observe. They choose based on how you respond when you fail or when they do the same. You are always earning the right to lead.
You’re only a leader if they let you in.
Give this a try. Observe your actions from their point of view and consider the question they are asking. “Why should I follow you?”