Lead The Way

The last few weeks the theme of leadership has shown up in my conversations with folks from various walks of life.  I had a conversation with a young college student who wanted to interview me on the role of culture in the helping professions; my beloved Marcus Book Club had a lively and thought-provoking conversation on the impact of Dr. MLK, Jr.’s death on America and what leadership has or has not been since April 4, 1968; yesterday a colleague and I talked about the role of parents’ leadership efforts to effect change in the educational lives of their children.

All of this leadership talk got me to thinking….What is leadership?  How are leaders made?  Where are we all going?

I said I was thinking; not that I have any answers and certainly if I did, they would be answers from my perspective.  So here are a few things that have been rolling around in my head the last several days:

1.  Being your own leader (with God’s guidance) has to be first.  Finding a path for yourself prevents you from getting lost and/or following other lost folks.

2.  Know where your leader is going.  Vision is a wonderful thing and necessary for achievement and success; however, leaders ought to have a plan to go along with that vision.  A leader without a plan is just somebody walking around.

3.  Consider how the leader became a leader.  Was someone outside of the  group assigned by someone else outside the impacted group?  Did the leader spring up from the ranks of the people or bring gifts, skills, talent and a heart for the people he/she will be leading from some other station in life.

4.  Leaders who don’t understand that to lead is to serve are dangerous.  If the people being led aren’t better off, to some degree, than they were before the leader came, was he/she really a leader or just somebody who wanted to be in front.

5.  Is the leader creating an environment that develops and nurtures new leaders?  One of the issues I have with “leaders” is that they act as if they will lead forever.

6.  STOP insisting that leaders be “perfect.”  Time and time again this has proven detrimental for a cause or movement.  No man or woman is perfect.  They were created the same way the folks being led were created and often have the same fears, limitations and challenges. 

7.  Don’t worship leaders; support their efforts and work toward the good of the whole and not individual comforts and rewards.  True leaders know that leading is not about being popular (even with the people you are leading.)  Leaders are often alone and have feelings of isolation.  Leaders have to make difficult decisions and that usually makes someone angry.  When your identify a true leader, whether you agree with where they are leading or choose to follow, have some compassion.

8.  Leadership is often thrust upon the leader.  If you think for a moment about any task that has been given to you, remember that there is sometimes resent, uncertainty around the task and the folks that expect so much of you.

9.  Are leaders born or are they created?  I think somewhere in the middle lies the answer.  Are there “born” leaders who never led?  Absolutely.  Leaders get the choice to step into their leadership or not.  Situations and circumstances often create leaders….did Rosa Parks want to spur a movement or just sit down on a bus?

10.  Lead closest to home.  I am often very skeptical of taking leadership from someone who’s “house is not in order.”  I don’t mean, the standard of unrealistic expectation that is often placed on leaders, I’m talking about someone so far away from doing what they are asking me to do that it becomes laughable.  If you are a parent; allow your children to see you as a leader in your own home.  If you are an educator, your students ought to be inspired to lead by being in your presence daily.

Leaders shine light in dark places and help us to find the courage to go into scary places.  So, LEAD THE WAY!

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