Leadership is an idea anchored in the past, adrift in the present, and hopelessly lost at sea for the future. More and more gurus of management and leadership long for heroes of the past, search for examples in the present, and remain cynical about future prospects of seeing real leadership emerge in nearly all disciplines, but especially politics. A quick Google search of the word leadership produces this most common definition: Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.
Leadership is about leaders who have the capacity to influence a group to support or achieve a common goal. There are bad leaders, good leaders, servant leaders, autocratic leaders, moral leaders, immoral leaders, and the list goes on. In our most basic definition, attention is paid to “a process” that is used to influence. To make things more complicated, there are thousands of snake oil salesmen who want to sell you the process that will assure your success as a leader. Buy this book, follow this curriculum, attend this seminar and voila, you are a leader. Annoying!
I see leaders in so many places and in so many situations and they all defy simple definitions and certainly defy stereotypes that can be squeezed into a process or program. It is a slum kid that organizes other young kids to clean up their streets; it is a businessman that refuses to participate in corrupt business practices because he has simply had enough; it is a nun that refuses to cave into authority that is anchored in power; it is an academic teaching in an oppressive regime who refuses to surrender her understanding of the truth, even when faced with persecution. All these and many more serve as a compass pointing me in a direction where the horizon is something I do not fully understand. The compass is a conscience or value shaped by parents, education, culture, faith, and an observant and keen mind.
The leadership I am looking for is a leadership that I also want to cultivate in myself. To that end, I am coming to the following conclusions about the leader I want to be. There are eight points, or maybe 8.5:
1. Leaders have a vision of where they want to go with no certainty that once they arrive it will be at all what they expected. They are prepared to be surprised.
2. A leader has not arrived at truth but is continually a seeker. Every day opens new possibilities and the possibility of personal and group transformation. Seekers are in a better position to adjust their position in order to achieve their goal and are always willing to be transformed.
3. Leaders see the world around them and ask – what action can I take and what actions can I inspire (to breathe in) in others to improve our common predicament?
4. A leader can forgive himself and those around him for failing to fully understand that the ground we plow as we move toward our goal may have rocks and stones that damage us and create unintended harm as well as hope.
5. A leader leaves a trail that others can see or follow but gives freedom to explore and for those that follow, freedom to find their own horizon.
6. A leader is willing to live a life of abandonment for the vision she seeks to create.
7. A leader does not loosen his grip on the wheel of his ship when confronted by the storms of failure.
8. Alas, a leader just has to lead but recognizes that sometimes it is best to follow.
.5 – A leader can be found in all of us.
If I could only get to ten then I could probably package these random thoughts and turn them into a process that can be sold online, a book, a movie, or even another seminar. I think in the end a leader is a seeker – one of my favorite words, ideas, or style of living. Seek and you shall find!
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