I have spent many hours these past 50+ years thinking about, reading about, conversing with others about, and observing leaders.  Still, I ask: ‘Who’s a Leader?’  Today I found the following in my September, 2011 journal.  For those of us who espouse Greenleaf’s concept of The Servant as Leader the following, it seems to me, is crucial for us to consider.

==> Today, perhaps more than ever before, our need for leaders is urgent
==> Even today, after all of these years, there is no agreement on the definition of leader

  • Some are defined in terms of tasks – setting goals, motivating people, evaluating people.  Yet, this is what ‘managers’ are charged with doing and what many ‘leaderless’ teams also are charged with doing
  • Some define ‘leader’ as one who provides the vision – yet many visionaries are not followed, some are even ‘punished’ for their visions
  • Then there are transactional or transformational leaders – so Hitler and Stalin would qualify
  • Then there are servant-leaders, serving-leaders, service-leaders and although the terms are similar the dynamics are quite different as are their approaches to leadership

==> There is one irrefutable definition of a leader: a leader is someone people follow – anyone with followers (liberator or oppressor, transformational visionary or transactional problem solver, dictator or benevolent autocrat) is a leader.  Given this, there are two essential – and challenging – questions about leadership that must be addressed:

  • Why do people follow this person?  How do leaders gain and keep followers?  Do people follow by ‘inspiration’ or by ‘coercion’ or by ‘manipulation’ or by ‘seduction/promises’ or by a desire to be taken care of or by a promise that they will not be held responsible [historically many people have committed atrocities in response to ‘I was only following orders so don’t hold me responsible.’]
  • How do people follow the leader?  Do they follow ‘blindly?’  Do they comply – do what they are told?  Do they ‘imitate’ the leader?

==> Leadership ALWAYS implies a relationship between the leader and led – leadership is a by-product of this relationship.  Is the relationship one of dependency, or submissiveness, or independency or. . . ?
==> Leadership ALWAYS exists within a context.  Leaders who gain followers in one context may not attract followers in another [Consider Winston Churchill who was not followed before nor after WWII but was followed unhesitatingly during WWII.]
==> Two Questions for Leaders: Does the way you lead get you what you want?  What do you want?
==> Two Questions for the Followers: Does the way you follow get you what you want?  What do you want?

My friend and colleague, Yim Harn, who lives in Singapore, sent me the photo below.  The question that emerged for me this morning as I reflected upon her photo was: Would I choose to follow the leader who appears to be so far out ahead that I can barely see him/her? If one looks closely at the photo one can see ‘the leader’ far off in the distance – certainly the leader was able to follow the path of stones and rocks and yet there are many questions I hold; here are four of them: What support did the leader have?  What resources did the leader need?  How do I know what support and resources I will need? And, what lies around the bend that appears to be so far off? 

by Yim Harn-Giant staircase -Staffa

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