Often times when I speak on leadership I receive this response, “I really enjoy hearing you speak on leadership, but I am just not a leader.” It is at this point my eyes gloss over, my complexion begins to turn a bright red color, and steam begins shooting out of my ears. Not because this comment makes me mad, or that I am frustrated with the individual for self-identifying as a non-leader, but because I tired of people missing out on the opportunity to live a fulfilled life because have a misconception of leadership that causes them to disqualify themselves from it. This is mainly because many believe leadership is for the charismatic, big personality people who can draw a crowd and speak with eloquence while charging the beachhead and overcoming whatever obstacles stand in their way. This, my friends, is not what leadership is, and though there are many people in leadership positions that exude these traits, I am sure we can all testify about working for someone like this and admit they couldn’t lead themselves out of a wet paper bag.
In all the noise of leadership definitions and theory and practice, what has been lost is servant leadership. In the 1970’s, Robert Greenleaf identified servant leadership from an academic perspective in his book Servant Leadership. According to Greenleaf, servant leadership begins with the innate desire within each of us to help others, to serve them, and this innate desire evolves into leading others by serving them. Now, this sounds significantly different than what many of us think leadership is because we envision a leader as someone perched on a raised position barking out orders and commands while people are tending to their needs and wants. Greenleaf would argue, leaders should “put followers first, empower them, and help them develop their full personal capacities”. Furthermore, they should not look to have others attending to their needs, but they should place the good of the followers over their own self-interests and emphasize the development of those who follow them. Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, found in his research that a servant style of leadership was the predominant leadership style in the CEO’s of the organizations that were truly great. What Collins discovered through his study of great companies is the leadership secret that very few seem to know and even fewer are practicing and benefiting from.
Leadership should be about helping others, and it should develop from our natural desire to help others. Not all of us are designed to lead hundreds or thousands, but we all have the opportunity to lead our friends, coworkers, colleagues, families, neighbors, and communities. Remember, activism is not going to change our world, leadership is, and it can start with you in your sphere of influence by serving those around you.