“The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” ~James Buchanan
Back in the day I read every book I could get my hands on about leadership. I wanted to see studies and data. I want formulas and strategies. I trusted all these Ph.D.’s and their teams of undergrads and you know what? They let me down.
It’s not that they didn’t do their research diligently and rigorously. It’s not that they weren’t decent writers. The problem was that for the most part they weren’t leaders themselves. Sure, they were erudite about the topic. (That means they knew their stuff.) But they knew about it in the way that a male gynecologist knows about women. Any 18 year old female with no formal training knows more about being a woman than our good doctor. My leadership researchers could only take me so far.
The Bookworm Heads Out Into The World
So I fixed my gaze outward and looked for actual leaders in the world. They weren’t that hard to find. We actually have quite a few at any given time and we have lots of information recorded about past leaders spanning the last 3,000 years.
Here’s what I found out: A leader is a person in the lead.
That’s it. You don’t find leaders by looking for a mob of followers and then figuring out who is in charge. That person is often just a wrangler or a caretaker. Sometimes they are even an outright fraud. Politics has an embarrassment of riches in this area.
Aside from being a leader, a leader does leading too. That doing may be in actions. But it may also be in words or in thoughts and concepts. They are in their realm of leadership deep and it moves them to act.
What About Followers?
In a race, the people behind the leader are following but they aren’t followers. It turns out that this is often the context for any kind of leader. Nominal followers aren’t “behind him” in the sense that they are supporting him, they are just bringing up the rear.
Leaders may have followers but they don’t need followers. They are not responding to popularity or support. They have another motivation.
But…many leaders do have actual followers after all.
Where The Magic Happens
Why would anyone be a true follower of anyone else? Because someone has developed a mission, and that mission speaks to the likely followers.
If you want to be a leader, this is the one thing you must do. You must develop a mission. You can’t lead without a mission. But don’t people become leaders in others ways? No. These are just people who seem like leaders if you don’t look too close:
- Being the boss does not make you a leader.
- Neither does being more experienced.
- Having money doesn’t do it.
- Education doesn’t tip the scales either. (See paragraphs 1 and 2.)
No, people will not follow you for any of those reasons for very long.
Furthermore, people won’t follow you because you are you. Let’s face it, you won’t even follow you because you are you. You will develop doubts at the very least and get paranoid at the worst. You need something to have confidence in, and so do others.
The Mission and Mission Control
A mission, that thing that is bigger than you, is just the ticket. A mission can exceed your time and space. It can live beyond your personal resources. It can grow with your help or without it. If you are a leader, it grows by orders of magnitude beyond the mere you but welcomingly allows you to come along for the adventure.
A leader is not in charge of his mission. He is more its appointed guardian. The authority of that appointment is not guaranteed forever either. You have to continue to prove worthy of it. For the true leader that is no struggle. It is a selfless love that energizes them. They will stay the leader because it feels so right.
You cannot be a leader just to be a leader. You have to care about something first. That was my problem back there with my books. I wanted to be in charge of something but I had no “something” that stirred the passion in me to lead. I did a lot of things. You might even call them accomplishments. But leadership evaded me until I found my mission.
My mission is simply this: To open the eyes of small business owners everywhere to their power to transform the world.
Entrepreneurship has turned some kind of corner. It is not just about making money anymore. Sure, making money remains a key component. But there is now a purpose to making it that exceeds just making somebody rich.
“You don’t need followers to be a leader.” click to tweet
Whether it’s Bill Gates giving away billions of dollars to eradicate polio and encouragingly compelling other billionaire people and companies to join him, or Kiva giving $100 microloans to fund small businesses in developing nations, it is a new world. So follow them and follow me. Or better yet, develop your own mission and lead. Perhaps then we can follow you.
What mission are you leading? Tell us about it by commenting below.
Photo credit: la ciudad visible