Leadership is power because it is a catalyst that makes things happen. It is also a power shared by all, for if we don’t lead others, we lead ourselves. When we understand the principles of leadership, there are at least three benefits. First, by applying what we learn, we can become better leaders. Second, we can make better decisions when choosing someone to follow. Lastly, by understanding the complexities of leadership, we will have greater respect for our leader. This will increase our compliance with their suggestions, increasing the benefits we receive.
What is meant by leadership? To find out, let’s look through the eyes of three commentators. American Management Consultant, Peter F. Drucker has this to say, “Leadership is not magnetic personality — that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not making friends and influencing people — that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”
A leader’s role is one of balance, for as American business philosopher Jim Rohn writes, “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”
Perhaps the most significant characteristic of true leadership was expressed more than 2500 years ago by the founder of Taoism, Lao-Tzu, “The wicked leader is he who the people despise. The good leader is he who the people revere. The great leader is he who the people say, We did it ourselves.” Now that a picture of true leadership has been painted, let’s take a closer look by examining some of the details.
A leader is foremost a servant, not in word, but in deed. As Christ said, “. . . let the greater among you be as the younger, and the leader as he that serves.” (Luke 22:26) One who is elected leader simply wins the right to serve others. Leaders understand that the art of perfect living is the art of perfect giving. And what do leaders give to those they serve? The benefit of the doubt. For they search others for their virtue and themselves for their vices.
What else do they give? Encouragement. For leaders are motivated by the wish to empower others. They want to bring out the best in others. The main role of delegation is not efficiency, but empowerment, for the main role of a leader is to create more leaders. How do they empower others? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe explains, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being.” The greatest ability of a leader may be the ability to recognize ability in others and encourage it.
Leaders also give inspiration. A good leader inspires others to have confidence in him or her; but a great leader inspires them to have confidence in themselves. Leaders are positive. Positively enthusiastic. They give hope and inspire others to make things happen. Where do leaders lead their followers? To places where they want to go, but wouldn’t go alone.
Leaders give thanks. For they appreciate the efforts of their team. They are generous in praise, not criticism; they give pats on the back, not whacks on the head. They respect team members and let them know. They are also quick to support and defend their team.
Teams may perform under stress, but leaders don’t use that as an excuse to be abusive. On the contrary, because of the stress of the job, they try to lighten the loads of others by being cheerful. After all, they love to climb mountains. That is, they realize life is a struggle and full of challenges, but they embrace difficulties to bring out the best in themselves.
Leaders have communication skills. They clearly define their values and goals to their team. By sharing information they illuminate the team instead of keeping them in the dark. They reassure team members by regularly offering feedback. Being empathetic, they are good listeners. So, they learn from their team, problem-solve, and implement solutions.
Leaders are interested in self-improvement. Their own and their team’s. However, when it comes to improving others, they are compassionate, not demanding. They realize people have flaws and make allowances for them. Nevertheless, since they wish to uplift others, they point out the correct path and offer encouragement. Like the farmer looking after the crops, they have the patience to wait for the harvest. Their preferred method of instruction is by example.
Leaders don’t wear the golden crown of a ruler, but a wreath of thorns known as responsibility. They are responsible for their team’s success. And whenever it is achieved, they make sure the team receives the credit. Yet, when problems appear, they have the courage to accept the blame and the wisdom to learn from their mistakes. They don’t fear responsibility because they realize, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.” (Luke 12:48) Or, as Winston Churchill said, “Responsibility is the price of greatness.”
Leaders have a thirst for knowledge. They keep abreast of the latest developments in their field. They are informed of possible problems, their causes, and solutions, and are aware of the needs of their teammates. It is not only their knowledge that inspires confidence, but their integrity. For leaders have values and live by them. They are known for their honesty and by the way they treat others fairly.
There are too many qualities of leadership to cover here, so I’ll close by illustrating some differences between a ruthless boss and a motivating leader. Bosses drive subordinates, leaders coach them. Bosses depend on authority, leaders on goodwill. Bosses say, “I,” leaders say, “We.” Bosses fix the blame for the breakdown; leaders fix the breakdown. Bosses know how it’s done, leaders show how. Bosses say, “Do it!” but leaders say, “Let’s do it!” Bosses inspire fear; leaders inspire enthusiasm. Bosses say, “Here’s what I think.” but leaders say, “What do you think?” Bosses expect you to work FOR them; leaders expects you to work WITH them. Bosses want things done THEIR way; leaders want things done the BEST way. Bosses get angry and point the way to the door; leaders are understanding and point the way. Bosses use people; leaders respect them. Bosses do what’s right for them; leaders do the right thing. Bosses inflict pain; leaders share pain. A boss takes more than his share of the credit; a leader takes more than his share of the blame.