When we think about the word leader, we often think about it as a prize. A title. A trophy for the best and the brightest. Like fame, we seek leadership for the rewards. The money. The prestige. And most importantly – the acknowledgement that we are good and what we are doing matters.
The result is a complicated dance of performance, self-interest, and labeling. Like a sporting event, we want to know our score, our value, and how we measure up to others.
This has been the driving force of leadership in modern history. If we are in charge, things are more likely to go our way. It’s an attempt at control.
But leadership is not about titles. It is about relationships. Leadership is about stewarding one’s influence.
In that regard, everyone is a leader. We influence people in many ways. With a position or a title, we can dictate what needs to be done and are obeyed by those not holding the title who hope to one day get it. But in the end, this is one of the least effective ways we lead.
The most effective form of leadership is being the kind of person that inspires others. This is the best way to influence.
Traditional views on leadership and power dynamics can be an obstacle. We spend so much time playing the games, we do not stop to think about what leadership and influence really mean and how we might steward it well.
Where to Start
The thing that nobody really wants to hear about leadership is that it begins with stewarding your internal influence. Even the best intentioned of us are more excited about helping others than acknowledging the need for help ourselves.
Leading well, simply put, is living well. We do not lead others by trying to lead others. We influence others by taking responsibility for ourselves. The effect it has on our ability to influence is a by-product of self-care.
Just like teenagers, people have a keen radar for authenticity. We can tell, at some level, when we are being manipulated, lied to, or addressed by a hypocrite. Positional authority is nice because people have to do what you say no matter how crummy you are.
But if we want lasting influence, we have to start within. We can’t just pretend to be a good person, we have try to be a good person. We have to live out of vision and self-awareness if we want any chance of encouraging others to do the same.
We’re all like bumper cars in this world. We smash and scrape against one another, leaving streaks of us all over humanity. Part of life in community is the inevitability that who we are will be affected by who we are with.
We can’t control others. Neither can we avoid the fact that who we are influences the circles we are in. This is why married couples start to adopt similar mannerisms (or even seem to look the same). Social friends start to like the same movies or snacks or dog breeds. We are communal by nature.
Our individualism is an ingredient of community. It makes the whole what it is. An awareness of this helps us to see the responsibility we have to participate in community. To steward our leadership in a healthy and responsible way.