What is Leadership and Where is if Found?
Is it the quality to inspire through great speech, or is it the ability to translate great speech into affirming action?
Is it found in celebrity, or in the act of a concerned individual?
Is leadership inherited, a natural gift, or something learned?
Can it be found hidden away in the simple words of a humble servant?
Does leadership require great trappings of power, or is it manifest in servitude?
Do you have to travel to centers of power, of business, or the arts, or can you discover it next to a stream on a quiet mountain?
Can you lead if you see your role as one to be obeyed, and not as someone to inspire and build?
There is a man I know, someone I respect and consider an inspirational leader. He is someone who is bold and brash in his style, but simple and serving in his approach. One day, I was asked to move into a position that expanded my responsibilities. I now had to work with a new team of professionals. As I considered this new role it seemed only natural that I would attend their weekly meeting to listen to the issues they had, the problems they faced, and the way they developed solutions. I sat quietly in the meeting, absorbing their group dynamic. I had little advice to offer, for I had much to learn.
At the end of the meeting, as this team split apart to pursue their individual challenges, this giant of a man, this inspirational leader, who was working as a support contractor approached and said something that has both flattered me, and left me bewildered for a number of years. He asked why I had attended this meeting? I gave him the only answer I had. I was now supposed to help make decisions, and I couldn’t do that if I didn’t know the issues, know the people, and allow them to know me. It seemed the only option, or only sensible option available to me. His next comment set me back just a bit, and I’ve wrestled with it since then. Con’s said in the three years he had been with this team, it was the first time, the only time, a supervisor had bothered to sit in with the entire group to participate in their effort. Usually, those in charge would have their own meetings and the team lead would be expected to attend. Con’s thanked me for showing an interest in the team, and their work.
I had long believed if you wanted to know what was going on you couldn’t lead from your office; you had to get up, get out, and walk around. What I found so bewildering, and a bit troubling, is how few grasp what I view as an essential fact.