“Houston, we have a problem.” This misquotation of words broadcast from the Apollo 13 spacecraft could be tweaked to sound an alarm about the state of today’s leadership in every sector of life. “Planet earth, we have a problem.”
The first part of the problem is the common misunderstanding of leadership, which we generally confuse with position, political or otherwise.
“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” — Kenneth Blanchard(1939- ), American author, management expert.
Authority is the result of leadership, never the cause. It’s true that authority sometimes instills confidence. But, unless the foundations of leadership are present, position alone does not translate into leadership. (see: Barney clips #1 & #2)
Leadership is Serving
Leading is not the opposite of following, following is the foundation of leadership. Following a principle, an ideal, and a dream. When we follow one of these, each which is outside of ourselves, we are serving, which is the highest form of leadership.
“The first step to leadership is servanthood.” — John C. Maxwell
Megan McCallister and I crossed paths at the University of Dayton. As part of a co-ed volleyball team playing in a fundraising tournament for Special Olympics, Megan, a former player on the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team, showed up for our first practice and asked, “What would you like me to do?” She had the credentials and experience to tell our team of amateurs what to do. Instead, she asked how she could serve the interests of the team and the event. That’s servant leadership!
Leadership is Timing
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” — Warren G. Bennis
Days later the same tournament was underway. At a clutch moment during a tight match, team captain and coach Julie Bowling called time-out. In the huddle, without being asked, Megan stepped up, took charge and said, “Okay gang, here’s what we’re going to do.” Real leaders like Megan also have vision and know when to assert themselves. When action is based on vision, good timing AND serving others, true leadership is exhibited.
Leadership is Conviction
Leadership begins with one’s conviction to a purpose, but becomes measurable only through appropriate action. Leaders do not hold a finger to the wind before committing and they don’t shy away from taking action.
“A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” — Max Lucado
Like Success, Leadership is Portable
Leadership can be carried over to other areas of life. That is why superstar athletes run for public office and endorse products. The perception that they have succeeded in one field is accepted as evidence of leadership that is transferrable to other fields. Few would know whether or not golf great Phil Mickelson is an expert in financial services. But, that’s not why he wears the KPMG logo on his golf shirt. His success credentials, like leadership qualities, are portable.
Leadership is Lagging
In government, families, institutions, and businesses we are in the midst of a leadership drought. Misunderstanding leadership, leading to preoccupation with achieving so-called “positions of leadership,” have helped create this drought. The solution begins with clarity of what leadership means.
“The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.” — John C. Maxwell