When I think about leadership, I remember a personal family anecdote that I only heard once as a boy, that never left me. Since then that story has made a strong impact on the way I see my life and how I perceive the manner in which to approach it. When my grandfather passed away, someone at his funeral said “Américo was a great man. A leader of this community, who always gave his time and talent to make it better; They should erect a statue to honor his memory?”.
To live your life in a way that encourages people to ask that question is something to aspire to. Not to live it in a way that demands a statue, but to live it in a way that makes others demand it to honor your work and dedication to them.
Our greatest leaders are respected for honoring the commitment they have made to those they are leading. A true leader knows that it’s never, ever about them, or feeding their ego. They must see themselves as a servant of the system they are leading. Serving with confidence and a clear-headed focus fixed on a goal drives them and attracts loyalty. A leader must inspire people to question the state of things on their own in a way that makes them want to make it better. Because it is the right thing to do. The person in my story who said those kind words about my grandfather clearly loved him and wanted to find a way to show their gratitude for his efforts. His service and his love for his community was the foundation for his leadership.
Your actions and intent earn you the right to be followed. Not your title. A leader lives in the spaces between service and responsibility to those he is serving. People respond well to encouragement with intent to meet a goal. They will rise to the challenge if the inspiration feels fresh and well placed. The directive must be given in a way that makes people see the value in the challenge.
Tearing people down is a sign of weak leadership. Cowardly leaders fear evidence of their failure and inadequacies most of all. Facing them is difficult and they are not willing to do the work. In their mind, the title should carry enough influence to encourage people to follow. They are often also intimidated by people who are more qualified or intelligent than they are. They see them as a threat because they don’t truly understand their role as a leader.
Great leaders must encourage greatness from those around them who are more talented than they are. Who are stronger than they are and that are more intelligent than they are? Leadership isn’t a thing that is done, it’s the thing they are at every waking moment. It’s not something they can switch on and off, it’s how they experience the world. Leaders give people a reason to listen and the will to follow them. Every great speech in history is full of deep empathy from those who were meant to hear it. It’s the way you connect with people and motivate them to move forward. Great leaders identify the greatness in their people and acknowledge them. It’s looking at a child and immediately considering how the world must look from their vantage point. Try to see the world through their eyes. Respect that vantage point and enrich it with your empathy and you will consistently see results. It’s about seeing someone fail and taking time to try to understand why. A leader’s ability to address these failures in a more nuanced way can result in a more skilled and focused individual in the future who continues now with a better understanding of why they failed, and how they will now continue with better resolve and more skillful intent.
You can tell someone how, but they will likely forget. You can show them how, and they may not remember. But involve them, allow them to learn for themselves along with you and they will understand every time and work harder to improve.
Leaders can’t be afraid to be teachers and learners simultaneously. Their job is to create systems that constantly yield new opportunities. Leaders encourage movement in a direction everyone wants to move in. And leaders expect the best, encourage growth, and plan for the worst. We need better leaders in the world. We need to hear words from them that encourage us to be better.
Leadership doesn’t come from your standing or title. It doesn’t spring from a diploma or a seminar. It comes from deep inside. It comes from making people feel valued. Because people who feel valued that work together in a strong environment with a well-defined purpose are unstoppable.