John Maxwell relays the concept, if a leader does not have any followers, they are simply out for a walk. As I heard and pondered the thought, I began to question my leadership. Maxwell also speaks of position as the first step in the progression of leadership. Since I have only been in a few official positions of authority, and am currently nowhere near anything that resembles a leadership role, I really doubted I could be a leader. I had no obvious followers. Was I just out for a walk? But I felt like I was influencing several lives. I couldn’t count my followers, but I could name several friends.
Self-doubt increased as I felt some discounted my style of leadership because it was outside of their expectations. In truth, I didn’t want to fit their expectations.
I am not sure if it is resistance or rebellion that rises every time I think of these conversations. I know I show some form of influence, but I can’t find accurate words to describe it. Something inside me wants to step in front and tell people what direction to go. I want to take a leadership position just so I can say, “I told you I could do it.” And yet, that sounds like my motives are misplaced and it is not my style.
Why do I really want to hold a position? Do I want the prestige? Will it fill my ego? Or, do I want to influence others toward their best interests? Of course, my hope is to be admirable and to encourage others, though there is a selfish streak in me too.
The law of gravity says you will always be stuck to the ground. But the law of aerodynamics says one can fly if correctly equipped. The Periodic Table of Elements reveals gases that are lighter than air. Are these exceptions to the law of gravity? Are there also acceptable variations in the laws of leadership?
I was reminded of Sacagawea who guided Meriwether Lewis and William Clark through the northwest. She led them, but was she considered the leader? It seems as if Lewis and Clark were the leaders of the expedition. But what do you call what Sacagawea did? She was familiar with the territory, she guided them for a short time, and she was in front of the group. She led! Right? And what about Toussaint Charbonneau? Without his connection to the Shoshone, the expedition may not have made it through the headwaters in Missouri
In my pondering, I realized leading takes on different forms in different circumstances. Yet, as I write this, I feel like I risk a disagreement with the leadership guru that Maxwell has become. I agree that leadership is influence, but does a leader need to have followers to exhibit leadership?
Does an editor exhibit leadership to the writers from varied backgrounds? Does the curator demonstrate leadership when they choose which pieces of art to display for the public? Does the guide, translator, or navigator give leadership to the expedition team? A position doesn’t define the leader, but a leader defines the position or role.
My thought in writing this contemplative article is to explore the serving side of leadership and to encourage the discouraged leader to continue influencing, even though it may not be considered leading. If this is you, please know you are making a difference as you are being yourself. You have been created for a purpose, for this time and this place, God did not make a mistake. He also takes notice of when we do the things that are needed, simply to serve others.
Press on, continue to do good, you will soon see the difference you are influencing.
Photo: Sacagawea with Lewis and Clark at Three Forks, personal photograph taken at Montana State Capitol by Edgar Samuel Paxson