On Leadership II


I believe: Leadership is a gift from God. That is to say, the ability to

lead adult men and women is a gift from God, separate and apart from who may claim to have it. It is a real gift, something tangible and manifestly obvious in the person. It is not simply a claim to a gift; it is. What follows from that belief? This is what follows:

By the same token Babe Ruth was gifted to play baseball, Hemmingway gifted to write, and many others gifted to do whatever they do, there are those in this world gifted in this way: To lead.

Note that I do not select Ruth or Hemmingway because they are well known. Fame and talent do not necessarily follow one another, and even when connected, are irrelevant to this discussion. I do not pick them because I think of them as leaders of men and women. I pick them solely to illustrate the rarity of some gifts given by God. Specifically:

It is my premise that those with the talent to truly lead men and women are as rare in this world as Ruth and Hemmingway are in their respective fields. That the average person would not necessarily see it that way has more to do with the ease at which people can delude themselves, than truth and reality. It is easy to imagine famous personages as leaders, but it is rarely true, precisely because the gift of leadership itself is rare.

You see, there is no shortage of people who think they can lead, or try to lead, in the same manner that many people who simply know the alphabet consider themselves to be writers, and attempt to write professionally. The key to answering, “Are things as you say?” is in judging the barrier for entry: In many cases and many topics, if you can name it, you can claim it. When the weighted barrier for entry is low, you better beware what follows.

Notice the barrier for entry into the Ruth home run club is not only high, but tangible; the ball either goes over the fence, or it doesn’t. Sadly, no such instantly tangible barrier for entry exits for those who claim the title, “Leader.” In this case, if you can name it, you can claim it. Is there really any more need to waste electrons explaining what happens when bad leaders come into holding positions of power and authority?

As such, there are plenty of people in this world who are convinced of their leadership talents, but it is a contextual misunderstanding of the word “leadership.” Once the claimed “leader” thinks in context and/or meets people with true leadership ability, one hopes they look in the mirror, and reality sets in:

“That person over there is a real leader of men and women; I just thought I was.”

One hopes for the good of all parties their leadership masquerade is over quickly. Unfortunately, we live in the real world and that’s not the way it works. People do cling to the notion they are leaders. People do fail to step aside and they become obstacles for the doers and true leaders. James said it this way:

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in the mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like.”

— James 1:23-24

What do I do in such cases? What I do is hold up mirrors. I ask people to reflect on their talents as they are, not as they wish them to be. Why? To be a jerk? No. To illustrate to people they are living a dream at the expense of others. To illustrate to people they are not what they claim to be– a leader, and they don’t know how to do what they claim to do— to lead. I have found this is especially true in volunteer, no pay organizations, where long ago nobody wanted a particularly important but thankless job in the first place. As the organization matures and issues become more complex than who brings the potluck, suddenly the issues outstrip the talent of the current batter to hit the ball. When more talent finally decides to step forward, it is predictably not embraced for several reasons, including a “Where the heck were you X years ago when we needed someone to do Y and Z?” and a, “This is how we have always done it” mentality.

I’ve lost count how many times and places I’ve worked with a mop in my hands and my mouth shut. Do I know how to follow? Sure I do. Do I know when to follow? Again, sure I do. But, oh how I wish others in “leadership” today would now look in the mirror and realize it is time to step aside when demonstrably better leadership talent appears. Thank people for their current service? Absolutely. But when it is time for them to now follow, follow or get out of the way. Do not become an obstacle. Subjugate your ego. Realize you were where you were for a reason, and you served God well, but that original reason has gone away and now it is time to step aside.

Now, if you can not come to accept the above premise on leadership exactly as I wrote it, without disclaimers, a string of exceptions, further clarification, etc., etc., there is no need for you to continue reading. Why? Because everything else I have to say will flow from the above beliefs that:

1. Leadership is a distinct gift from God, and;

2. That you have it, and;

3. Most people don’t.

In summary, all of the above is easily attacked. People will undoubtedly feel threatened by this message, not to mention the messenger. You can foresee the comments, “This guy is really arrogant, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, etc.” Of course, labeling a person is the easiest way to dismiss them. Such commentators simply expose their own insecurity. But that’s fine with me. I’ll let my record speak for itself.

When it comes to placing the right people in the right place, Steve Jobs said it best:

“A” people hire “A” people

“B” people hire “C” people

In my life “B” and “C” have at times marginalized me. It was not fun for me, and I don’t suspect it will be fun for you. But since when has “fun” been a mandatory ingredient of the truth?

Does this look like fun?