THE VERY ESSENCE OF LEADERSHIP. . .

Greenleaf writes: The very essence of leadership, going out ahead to show the way, derives from more than usual openness to inspiration.  Why would anybody accept the leadership of another except that the other sees more clearly where it is best to go?  Perhaps this is the current problem: too many who presume to lead do not see more clearly. . .

But the leader needs more than inspiration.  He ventures to say, ‘I will go; come with me!’  He initiates, provides the ideas and the structure, and takes the risk of failure along with the chance of success.  He says, ‘I will go, follow me!’ when he knows that the path is uncertain, even dangerous.  And he trusts those who go with him.

In all of his writings Greenleaf is quite clear when he describes the ‘essence of leadership’: ‘going out ahead to show the way.’  What might he mean by this idea?  Perhaps an example will help. 

A few months ago a young woman drove up to a healthcare clinic and as she was parking she collapsed.  Another person was entering the clinic and informed the receptionist.  Quickly the word spread and two doctors and two medical assistants arrived at the car.  They began to offer conflicting views as to how to proceed.  A minute or two later a third doctor appeared.  He literally looked at the young woman and announced: ‘Drug overdose!’  He then ‘went out ahead’ and took the lead.  His going out ahead to show the way saved the young woman’s life. 

Based upon his experience he took a risk and asked others to follow.  He also trusted those who chose to follow his lead – he was ‘clear’ as to what his ‘lead’ entailed.  He was adamantly directive as he needed the others to comply; there was no time for persuasion or influence.  Those who chose to follow needed to comply and adapt. 

After the crisis had passed and the young woman was on her way to the hospital the physician took ten minutes and shared with the others what he saw that led him to ‘know’ that the young woman had overdosed.  So the physician helped ensure that the others also had a ‘learning opportunity.’  In taking the time to stop, step-back and reflect – and offer his insights, the physician-leader also provided the others a few minutes to decompress before they went back to the clinic and their patients.

How often do we – you and I, gentle reader – actually ‘see the way’ and then go out ahead and invite others to follow us?  How often do we ‘trust’ ourselves and what we ‘see’ to the extent that we find the courage (heart) to name the way, to go out ahead and to invite others to follow our lead?  Greenleaf calls this ‘inspiration;’ in other writings he calls it ‘foresight.’  It appears as if this ‘something’ is a combination of ‘intuition’ and ‘perception.’  How many of us are open to our intuition and how many of us then trust our intuition in this way?  How many of us have developed this type of ‘perception’?   

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