Remember the riddle, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It turns out that the study of leadership isn’t immune to the paradox. Are leaders born or made? Is it “nature” (birth) or “nurture” (environment) that is responsible for the development of leaders? We started asking these questions the first time someone was called a leader. There is no definitive answer to the question, “it depends,” but perhaps the best answer is:
What do Malala Yousafzari, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr have in common? If you answered the Nobel Peace Prize, you’d be right. Dig further, you’d learn they shared something else; despite the enormity of the movements they led, “they didn’t set out to be leaders.”
Malala just wanted an education, Mandela wanted to be a lawyer, and King just wanted to be a minister. Yet, these individuals would lead movements that would have global impacts. Search the Bible, you can find similar examples. David, a shepherd with only a stone and slingshot would face a Goliath and become King. Moses, the son of slaves and later, exiled from Egypt would return to free a nation. These individuals, and a small group of supporters, would influence movements that would have global impacts. Let’s not forget, Jesus and His 12 disciples. These examples highlight an observance made by American anthropologist, Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Leaders are often known because of their personal qualities and characteristics well before they’re thrust into leadership roles. I bet you remember that George Washington “never told a lie, or the “courage” of PT 109 Commander John Kennedy. In fact, Lincoln was referred to as “Honest Abe” because of his commitment to fulfill his obligations. He was known because he “… did not run from failure but stayed to pay the debt he owed.” According to one story, when he was working as a young store clerk in New Salem, Ill. he realized he had shortchanged a customer by a few pennies, he closed the shop and walked a great distance to deliver the correct change (N. Brooks, 2022). Ask yourself, how essential is integrity to leadership? Proverbs 11:3 (ESV) tells us:
“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.”
Last month, Megan Pacheco and Karen McGuire (Leadership and Integrity) stressed the importance of integrity and accountability providing the real-world examples and consequences of a former Hewlett-Packard CEO and King David (the slingshot guy). If you haven’t read them, I highly encourage you to check them out.
It turns out that our success, or failure, is often more contingent not on competence, but how people view us. According to the Centers for Creative Leadership (May 2020):
“The way we think about leadership affects how we perceive the leaders around us. For instance, if we expect a leader to be a hero, we are likely to see someone who takes charge to save the day as having the characteristics of a good leader, and someone who asks everyone’s opinions and lets the group make decisions as weak.”
After you read about the art, or science, of leadership tactics and techniques, inevitably, it always come back to those personal qualities and characteristics. When leaders use these to focus on a purpose, specifically, service towards others, there is always the potential, not guarantee, for greatness. Tony Robbins (motivational speaker and author) explains:
“Great leadership – quality leadership – is servant leadership. Servant leadership refers to someone who wants to influence others to serve the greater good. They don’t just want to get from Point A to Point B, and they’re not searching for an outcome that only benefits themselves; a great leader always has the big picture in mind. They’re searching for ways to not just help themselves, but to help other people and the community at large. They’re figuring out ways to influence their community and culture in such a way that everyone who’s part of it benefits. Serving the greater good is their driving force, also known as their purpose.”
As you continue your leadership path and exploration, I hope forefront in your mind is that you may not have started out to be a leader, but now you are. Leadership is no longer about us, it’s about them. It’s not about accomplishments, although important, it’s about service. It’s about shining the light and bringing others along with you. Titus 1:8-9 (NLT) describes the essence of a leader, as he lists characteristics of an elder in Titus’ church:
“He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.”
How many traits did you count? Remember the most important tools aren’t your title, resources, or competence; they’re the qualities and characteristics that make up who you are, what you stand for and how you are seen. Focus on your purpose, take care of others and, above all, serve.