When I say “leader”, do you think of a white dude in a suit who works for a company and has…
- Authority—power, control, and the ability to make decisions
- Popularity—being liked by the masses
- Success—achievement, rank, money (and do it all quickly, with scale)
- Prestige—influence over groups of people
Most of us have an idea in our head about what a leader looks, acts, and talks like. The rub is that most of us don’t live up to our own ruler—and we rebel.
In seeking to reject this idea of leader, many of us swing the other way and redefine leadership with a priority on listening, perspective taking, involving others, and ensuring everyone’s needs are met.
This too misses the mark.
It misses the mark because we’ve walked away from holding ourselves and the leaders we follow accountable. We’ve left behind the uncompromising commitment necessary in taking a stand. Moreover, we’ve let ourselves off the hook—essentially making decisions based solely on comfort and feelings.
Comfort is good. Feelings are great. However, living from that place leaves a whole lot of important aspects of our lives, and most importantly ourselves, off the table. And it points to a really big misconception about what in fact signals your desires—namely, your will, often referred to as your heart, not your feelings and thoughts.
Think of it this way. If I want to understand your emotions, I’ll ask you about your feelings. If I want to understand your intellect, I’ll ask you about what you think. If I want to understand your will, I’ll ask you about your decisions and look to your actions.
When it comes to leadership, the focus is on decisions and actions. But there’s something more—integrity.
Integrity is alignment of your wants, intentions, decisions, actions and commitments.
The last of those aligned elements, commitments, itself comprises a number of things: your agreements, promises, declarations (commitments to what you know), and vision (commitment to what you create).
And let’s not forget about character—the manner in which a person meets her responsibility, holds her accountabilities, takes initiative, and embraces her consequences.
And how often do we ask after the integrity and character of those we follow or examine our own when we intend to lead? Are we chasing after the wrong things when it comes to understanding leadership? Are we chasing after what others have told us to look for in a leader? Have we thrown out the baby with the bathwater?
I believe we ask too little of ourselves and our leaders.
We’ve done that by—
- Abandoning our responsibility for holding those we follow accountable
- Going along with who we like, rather than what is right
- Demanding oversimplification of complex issues, quick fixes, and off the cuff opinions
- Doing what feels good rather than sacrificing comfort for long-term gain
There’s no substance to our business and no weight to our discourse. We’ve made leadership about things that get us nowhere. We’ve demanded that our leaders be responsive to preference, personality, and our individual self-interest, rather than to principle, promises, and vision.
We fail to ask for leadership.
We’re using the wrong ruler for ourselves, those we follow, and those who want to lead.
Instead of looking at achievement, rank, money, and bigger is always better as markers of success, let’s ask ourselves—what is enough?
Instead of looking to amass influence over people, let’s ask ourselves—what is the state of my relationships?
Instead of hustling to be liked, let’s ask ourselves—what is it that I want to contribute?
Instead of striving to be powerful and in control, let’s ask ourselves—what are my commitments?
Instead of defining leadership as success, prestige, popularity, and authority—let’s define it by integrity and character.
Let’s investigate people’s decisions and actions.
Let’s learn about their agreements, promises, declarations, and vision.
Let’s ask ourselves if a person has alignment. Are a leaders decisions and actions consistent with her commitments?
Let’s ask ourselves about a person’s character. Does he rise to meet his responsibilities and accept his consequences? Does he take initiative? What is the state and quality of his connections with others? What is it that he’s contributing?