If you’ve ever been in a leadership position of any sort, you know that there is always a certain authoritative feeling that comes with the title.
However, the mark of a true leader is one that is able to inspire and empower people, regardless of whether he or she has a title.
How many people do you know that have brought significant change to an environment just by being themselves? These people have a way of uniting and connecting people and really inspire them to also be the best version of themselves.
How many people have simply started movements just by being extraordinary in their everyday actions?
I believe that these are the true leaders.
I decided to make a video about my thoughts on leadership. In this video, I talk about four aspects of an extremely effective leader that I have found to be extremely valuable.
A relational leader leads by example. The most powerful leader is one that allows their life to be the message above their words. They should be able to demonstrate the attitude and mindset that they want to see in their group.
The reason for this is because the attitudes and mindsets that a leader has, regardless of whether it is blatantly communicated, will usually be seen as a model for followers to reproduce. If a leader does not set an ethical, helpful, and generous example, the people who are under their leadership will assume that it is okay for them to do the same.
Leaders should always be learning and growing. Leaders who assume that they have all the answers are leaders that don’t believe there is more room for improvement. Leaders should be confident in what they have learned, but also open and willing to hear input from everyone who has their best interest in mind.
Leaders should always seek to get to know people for who they are. Leaders genuinely care about the well being of their group, because no matter the context, the whole group is healthier when the people that make up the group are whole. Even if what people are going through seems irrelevant to the group’s purpose, an effective leader is able to have an interest in people that goes beyond simply getting work done. It’s about the leader creating a safe environment for people to truly be themselves.
Effective Leaders should be able to raise up leaders. A leader that is capable of naturally creating relationships and getting people to follow them is a good leader. But the most effective leaders understand that the success of the group cannot depend on solely on the leader. In other words, if a leader were to be removed from the group, the group should be able to eventually function just as well without him or her and not completely fall apart.
Thus, the goal of a leader should never be to make people more dependent on the leader, but to empower people to become leaders in their own capacity.
What are other characteristics of leaders that you think are important?
People are unpredictable. That’s why leadership is so difficult; there’s no set formula for organizing people and starting a movement.
The best leader is one who earns their authority, not one who expects a position of authority. Great leaders understand that respect is earned from your followers, not merely given. Leadership is stronger when given from below, not above.
That’s why much of what people are writing about leadership nowadays talk about the leader being a servant. In fact, that’s why Jesus taught this principle when he was on earth.
The leader that expects authority simply because they are in a position with a title of authority will struggle to find a formula to organize people who are inherently unpredictable.
The leader that spends the time serving and earning the respect of people will have a positive reputation that precedes him.
Putting someone in a place of influence is always a choice by the people they are leading.
Dunbar’s number is proposed to be the limit to the number of stable and active social relationships that a human being can maintain. The number, roughly estimated to be about 150, has a couple deep implications.
For one, it reveals that a person’s influence can not be increased simply by increasing the quantity of relationships. This poses a fundamental challenge to traditional leadership, where the goal is for one group of individuals to unite and organize a large group of people. I’ve noticed this phenomenon personally, as many of the groups that try to maintain solid leadership and growth have difficulty remaining personal somewhere north of the 100 people mark.
In the past, centralized leadership worked under smaller groups of people, because the ease of connection and communication was nowhere near as quick or easy as it is today. Centralized leadership generally makes people feel safer, because they have someone on top that they can choose to trust to lead and guide them. However, as the world becomes more connected, it becomes more and more difficult for a single leader to keep up with what is going on with each person individually.
Instead of having a centralized leadership, we can use a decentralized system to take advantage of Dunbar’s number. Instead of having one person be the head for hundreds or thousands of people, decentralization levels the playing field and removes the “head”.
Decentralized systems gather around a principle or ideal rather than people. Instead of having people in leadership, they have core values. Thus, within a decentralized system, individuals are free to build and maintain connections among each other, creating a more connected and integrated community that can easily adapt and grow.
Decentralized systems embrace community, while a centralized system pushes conformity. And just like how we are realizing that we need to move from industrialization to personalization, we must also choose to move from centralized systems to decentralized systems.
Read The Starfish and the Spider if you want a better picture of what I’m talking about.
While reading Developing the Leaders Around You by John C. Maxwell, his section about the different levels of leadership really stood out to me.
Within leadership, there are generally three distinct levels of leading. The three levels indicate different levels of commitment, involvement, and relationship.
Nurturing: The focus in a nurturing relationship is based on need. The leader is committed to fulfilling the individual’s needs. This type of relationship is generally based on spontaneous decision to help a person with a specific task.
Equipping: The focus in an equipping relationship is based on task. The leader is committed to teaching the individual how to perform a certain task. This type of relationship is a short term commitment to teach a person a skill in order to perform tasks.
Developing: The focus in a developing relationship is based on the person. The leader is committed to the person unconditionally. This type of relationship is a long term commitment to mentor a person in all aspects of life so that their mentee can mentor someone else.
Realistically, a leader should nurture everyone, equip and handful, and develop a few. A leader that doesn’t equip or develop anyone is a leader that creates dependency on himself / herself, making it difficult for an organization to continue without him / her. A leader that tries to develop too many people is often bent over backwards trying to invest a lot into everyone, ultimately not being able to act according to what they say.
If leadership is truly about serving and doing what is best for the people you are leading, leaders must create a model that is practical, scalable, and meaningful.
The purpose of any leader or leadership organization is to bring some sort of change or obtain some sort of goal. It is not enough for a leader simply to know what to do, they must know how to communicate and bring people together.
I’ve written in the past about how high schoolers have poor training in leadership, and how leadership is about being significant rather than famous. At the heart of significant leadership, there needs to be a desire to empower future generations to accomplish things beyond what you have been able to accomplish. A leader that is afraid of his followers gaining more power than himself is one who builds a community around himself rather than around the group he is serving.
Significant leaders, ones that have a heart for the people they are leading, understand that they must surround themselves with other leaders, instead of surrounding themselves with obedient workers.
“Managers are maintainers, tending to rely on systems and controls. Leaders are innovators and creators who rely on people. Creative ideas become reality when people who are in a position to act catch the vision of their innovative leader.” – John Maxwell
With that said, I’ve noticed that there are four significant areas, that when properly understood, contribute to a leader. I am not claiming to be the perfect leader by any stretch, but these are simply based off of what I’ve noticed.
Create A leader must have a goal, vision, or an understanding of what he/she wants to change. The leader must understand how to accept himself and be vulnerable with the people he leads, in order to boldly and fearlessly take steps toward achieving the goal or vision. Having something tangible to show for often is a leader’s creation that will attract the interest of people, whether it be an idea, a teaching, a philosophy, a talent or skill, or anything else that catches the attention of people.
Express Leaders must be able to express their vision, goal, or creation to other people. A person who is unable to communicate what their creation is will have a hard time having people understand what they are about. In order to lead a group of people, communication allows people to connect with a leader and understand the leader. Effective communication is more than revealing your vision or goal, but also being open and vulnerable about the heart behind it, where it’s coming from, and the emotions and feelings that may be attached.
Inspire After communicating the purpose, vision, and goal with people, leaders must inspire people to make their own steps and choices. This often requires telling people why they should care, in order to get people excited and passionate about what a leader is trying to do. Giving people the freedom to be inspired means giving them the freedom to choose what their response is. Significant leaders understand that not everyone they pitch their idea to will come under their cause, but it’s more important to have a smaller group that freely chooses to accept what you have to offer rather than a larger group that comes through manipulation and pressure.
Empower A significant leader empowers others with the freedom to accomplish things that are greater than what they have accomplished. Significant leaders allow people to take their breakthroughs and build on them, instead of hiding them away. Empowering other people means giving up your control and trusting that people will be able to contribute as much to the purpose or vision that the leader can.
Being a leader is a position that requires an understanding of how to serve people, and being effective at leadership is a practice that is very much related to personal skills.
It’s exciting to invest in people who will reach people you never could.
If leaders lead from a place to build themselves up, they may benefit the people around themselves, but if they lead from a place to build others up, they benefit everyone around the people they lead.
Leadership yields the greatest impact from a place of service.
As a recently graduated high school senior (class of 2012) that has served in leadership in various clubs and groups, there is definitely a lot more to leadership than it might seem. Here are a couple of pointers.
Take Risks. You will fail sooner or later, and once you come to accept that, you will realize that you grow best in leadership when you learn from your own mistakes. With that said, never hesitate to venture out into the unknown, and do things in ways that no one has ever done before. Think outside the preconceived traditional ways of leading, and focus on doing whatever you can to help.
Lead By Example. The fastest way to lose people who support you is talking the talk without walking the walk. Lessons are infinitely more valuable when you teach from experience. When you experience something, you experientially know what is practical and what is impractical.
Inspire People. Inspire people to action. Give them the freedom to question you, and make yourself open to any opinions or concerns people might have. Invest above and beyond what is required of you into these people’s lives, and get to know people personally.
Have a Vision. Establish a vision and refer back to it often, so that you constantly take steps toward your goal. A vision is something that often takes weeks to establish, and may change as things go along. Since having a fuzzy goal leads to fuzzy results, try to be clear with your vision, defining every little term so that everyone who hears your mission statement interprets it the same way.
Serve Humbly. Leading is not about building yourself up and making yourself famous. Ironically, the way to most successfully lead any group of people is to build them up and make them famous. Because when you empower other people to lead other groups, your influence extends to people you would never have had time to influence. Learn to build other people up.
Communicate. Being able to communicate is perhaps the most valuable asset to a leader. Focus on being able to express your ideas clearly, meaning that you probably may have to repeat yourself. Also understand that communication is two way, meaning listening is also key to communication. Take interest in what the other person has to say, and value them as individuals. There is no such thing as overcommunication.
Lastly, remember that you are dealing with high schoolers, which means you are dealing with a huge variety of maturity levels and changing personalities. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go your way, because leading a teenage kids can be a real challenge. Just pick yourself up and keep being awesome.
And the current education system isn’t helping.
“Follow Instructions” has always been the very basis of our classroom learning environment since our elementary school days. We are trained from a young age to “do as we are told”. Everything we learn in school, including every project and test, has some sort of specific rubric to follow. Even “leadership roles” at school are merely positions for students to act as mediators between students and administration, also with a specific list of roles and responsibilities.
What happens when you give complete freedom to someone who has always followed directions all their life? (And by complete freedom, I mean freedom to decide everything from purpose and direction to actions and logistics.)
You get a whole bunch of confused leaders, not sure what they are doing, and most of the time, nothing happens. Things fall through, because high schoolers have never been trained to work with absolute freedom.
We’ve been trained to avoid failure at all costs, because failure brings judgment, inadequacy, and insecurity.
Schools are afraid of failure. Schools are afraid that if they allow students with more freedom to lead, there will be inevitable failures and mishaps. And we can’t have that. We can’t afford to tarnish our reputation for the sake of practical education. Besides, failure is something you want to hide from people, because it won’t help you get into college.
Being an effective leader requires a lot more than meeting requirements. Being an effective leader requires a great deal of passion and determination, and a willingness to unapologetically pursue dreams. Being an effective leader requires the perseverance to continue even when your peers are lacking morale. Being an effective leader requires an ability to think differently than everyone else, in order to inspire and encourage people.
I wish I learned how to lead long time ago.