There are those in or with authority all around us. They range from law enforcement officers to parents to bosses to political figures. It is evident if we watch the news, observe familial behavior, or are part of any organization that “authority” doesn’t necessarily mean “leadership.”
John C. Maxwell, one of the most prolific writers of our time, in his book, "The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader," says this: "What makes people want to follow a leader? Why do people reluctantly comply with one leader while passionately following another to the ends of the earth? What separates leadership theorists from successful leaders who lead effectively in the real world? The answer lies in the character qualities of the individual person … leadership truly develops from the inside out.
Real leaders understand how to be a positive example day in and day out. Real leaders build-up, they support and encourage. They value competence and communication and work to develop it in themselves. They have focus, vision, and the courage to take calculated risks. They are generous with their wisdom, remain humble, and know when to shut up and listen.
In stark contrast are the “would be leaders” that through their position of authority wish to rule over us. Many perceive themselves because of “title,” feelings of entitlement, or arrogance to be leaders, when in fact by their behavior and leadership style, are nothing more than “bossy overlords.” They attempt to manipulate “underling” compliance, loyalty, effort, and teamwork through control, what is and isn’t communicated, partial truth, etc. They have a tendency to live in a Machiavellian world where the end justifies the means.
How many real leaders have you known or observed? In my experience “leaders” are few and far between and I can only hope that as a reader your experience has been better than mine. It is so easy to directly observe the contrast between real and would be leaders, especially in leadership provided by public “servants” and within our work settings.
From the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 17, whose title comes from the opening words of its two sections, “way” and “virtue” outlines levels of leadership. “The highest type of ruler is one whose existence of which the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy.” It continues, “The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’”
I can’t imagine the Sage in this quote is trying to manipulate with the idea that “Leadership is getting people to do things they don’t want to do.” It is obvious by its context that the Sage has learned to trust, to empower, and to encourage people in a way that allows them to jump in feet first, motivate themselves, and see the work and accomplishments as their own.
I think it is fair to say that real leadership is a rare thing. Those who have it leave a legacy of strong-hearted people. Those who don’t have it leave a wake of resentful people. – Veldon L. Law