Let’s talk about the L word today: leadership. It’s interesting how that one word can conjure up so many different thoughts, emotions, and reactions in different people. I would venture to guess that some of you reading my words at this very moment are doing a quick scan of the contents before you hit the delete key, because you are tempted to think that the topic of leadership doesn’t apply to you. You may be tempted to think that you are not a leader. If you find yourself thinking that thought, then I implore you to keep reading, because I must tell you—with all the love in the world for you—that you are selling yourself short. How can I dare to say that, without even knowing you or anything about your situation? Here’s how.
John Maxwell says “leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less”. So, what exactly does influence mean?
My online dictionary describes it as, “the power that someone has to affect other people’s thinking or actions”. Yup – I would say that pretty much sums it up. If leadership is influence, and influence is power over people’s thinking or actions, then one could make the mental leap that leadership refers to power that one has over the lives of others. Whoa.
Do you have children? Do you have friends? Coworkers? Do you serve on any sort of committee or invest your time in any type of organization? If so, then by the definition above, we are all either leading someone else—or being led by them—in every relationship we have. I’m not just talking about the power of persuasion here. Take a look at your relationships on the whole, and ask yourself this question: Who is following whom? As healthy individuals, we will probably each be called upon to adopt the roles of leader and follower in different situations. If left to our own devices, our personality types would probably send us naturally toward one end of the spectrum or the other.
However, in living our life on-purpose, we want to make sure that we are assuming the right role in each respective situation, even if it means a venture out of our comfort zone. For instance, if you consider yourself to be a natural follower, stepping into a leadership position may be terrifying, challenging, and empowering all at once. I also believe that for a “natural” leader, assuming the role of a follower can be quite character building, as poise, grace, and the ability to take direction are all very important life skills. But for today, let’s dig a little deeper into the leadership end of the spectrum…and make sure that we are embracing the call to step up to the plate of leadership when necessary.
First, let’s look at our families. Whether your mind jumps to your own children, your parents, your siblings, or some other relative, take a step back and evaluate the situation. In those relationships, which would be better…for you to be influencing them, or vice versa? As far as our kids are concerned, in today’s society, if we’re not careful, it would be very easy to slip into the trap of “accidental parenting”, as family experts call it. In other words, instead of starting with the end in mind, as we discussed last week, we slip into reactionary mode and our children actually wind up leading us…with schedules, activities, purchases, and other decisions that affect the entire household.
On-purpose parenting, on the other hand, would involve us making proactive, premeditated, strategic decisions in relation to our children based on the overall outcome we want to create—which in the case of our kids would be grown adults as a finished product. So, what kind of adult do you want to create as a contribution to society? If we start with that end in mind, then we may make different decisions in each moment, and not be as tempted to give into impulse and slip into the “follower” mode.
How about leading yourself? Again, culture today dictates a principle that doesn’t necessarily produce the best results. Everything we hear today says, “follow your heart”. But think about it. If we follow our heart, we are making decisions based on feelings and emotions alone. Yikes. Jeremiah tells us that the heart is deceitful above all else. So why would we listen to it?!? I know from very wise counsel (and unfortunately my own personal experience) that decision & activity must precede emotion in order for our lives to work the way they were designed to work. Just think where we would be if we allowed our emotions to dictate our activity in the arenas of physical health, marriage, and business…we would never exercise, we would all be divorced, and we would never get off the couch to make one penny! Would we “feel right” in the moment? Probably. But would we be better off because of our decision afterward? No!
Next, let’s look at our circle of influence. You may have heard that we become like the five people we spend the most time with. There are two kinds of people in life…energy givers and energy suckers. Which are you? And which are you spending your time with? I have found that energy suckers seem to have more force to their energy than energy givers, so it usually doesn’t bode well to think that we’ll just be the good influence on the negative circumstance. While we can certainly have the best intentions, what usually winds up happening is that we just get drug down to their level of mediocrity, complacency, justification, rationalization, and an overall poor-me-it’s-not-my-fault-mentality. Not good! The best thing you can do here is abort ship! Or at the very least, minimize the amount of time spent with these people. The Good Book instructs us to guard our tongues and guard our hearts. Guarding our tongues keeps us from being the negative influence, and guarding our hearts protects us from being negatively influenced. Again, we must accept the responsibility to rise above the moment and make the tough decisions based on our desired end result.
And finally, let’s evaluate our business. Many of you reading this post are small business owners. Are you leading your business, or is it leading you? Are you expecting great things, and then actually working as if you intend to create them? Or are you wishing, hoping, praying, and then waiting for the business to come to you? I’ve been on both sides of that fence, and I can assure you that one will lead to complete exhilaration…and the other will lead to implosion.
If you look at each opportunity for leadership we discussed today, your family, yourself, your circle of influence, and your business, what it all boils down to is leading your life. Do you know where you want to end up? Are you taking the daily actions to get you there? Or are you living life in the passenger seat, being led by circumstances or people around you who are exerting more influence? It’s time to take back your power and use it to positively affect the world around you.