Taking Steps to Leadership

So you want to Lead?  Have you chosen to lead or has it been thrust upon you?  Does it matter?  YES, actually it does!  In this 1st installment, I will be covering the different types of leaders, and as this series progresses, I will describe the different aspects and characteristic actions that makes good leaders.

There are several kinds of leaders. If you are in management, no matter what level, you have positional leadership.  If you are on a committee and step up, you are in consensual leadership.  If you show up and people just follow you around, you are a charismatic leader.  Charisma’s hard to teach.  You have to be likable and people have to innately trust you.  The problem comes in those Charismatic leaders without integrity.  If a person follows a charismatic leader, then catches them in a lie or a misdeed, the trust is not just damaged, it is destroyed, and not just with that particular leader either.  Followers feel a bit gun shy about following legitimate leaders after being burned by an unfaithful charismatic leader.  Think of Jim Jones.  Think of Billy Graham.  Think of JFK, or Bill Clinton.  All of those were charismatic leaders, and while 2 of them were atrocious, 2 of them were wildly successful.  What made them successful was not whether they had a large following, but where they led them.  The destination and the journey chosen were based either on self gratification or on the greater good of the group they were leading.  Someone with a charismatic leading style has incredible power to do good or evil based on that one important perception, “Will these people be better off when the journey’s done?”  The danger comes in getting addicted to that adrenaline and ego boost a person gets from the unadulterated admiration and devotion his followers give.  If you are this kind of leader, you have to be much more attuned to your ethical gyroscope because the slightest slip and you come crashing down and your followers are devastated.  But you can also take them to heights they never imagined because of the trust and faith they have in you.  As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Some people are positional leaders and figure if they have the “management” badge, people have to do what they say.  Sometimes the badge says, “Sergeant,” sometimes, “CEO,” sometimes “Crew Supervisor.”  Sometimes the corner office with the nameplate signifies leadership, sometimes it is the striped shirt with the metal name tag where the name is printed instead of taped.  This is a difficult position to lead from.  You give orders and you expect them to be carried out.  The problem begins when you give an order and they don’t carry it out.  CEO’s can fire people for disobeying orders.  Sergeants can beat the snot out of the recruit that says, “Why do I have to do that?  That’s stupid.”  Crew supervisors just stare into the depths of the abyss and end up doing the job themselves.  Positional leaders have to earn the respect and trust of the people they lead.  Take a look at M*A*S*H.  Who was the leader there?  The colonel?  The majors?  The generals?  No, a lowly captain with charisma and a wicked sense of humor.  Take a look at a school system.  Who really runs it?  You got it:  the secretary.  Who really leads your church?  The Pastor?  or the “Claude” in Maxwell’s leadership stories.  The person with the most influence is not always the person with the position.  If the positional leader has earned the trust and the consent of his followers, they can have amazing results.  If not, the real leader of the group can crucify the one with the position.

The 3rd type of leader is one that you see in volunteer organizations, athletic teams, and musical groups.  How do they get into leadership positions?  They have special knowledge or experience that gives them a longer perspective.  They have a talent in an area the group needs.  They have the organizational skills and the people skills necessary to get the job done.  This is called leadership by consent of the group.  Michael Jordan is an example of this.  He had talent, but he also put in the effort.  He delegated responsibilities and empowered his teammates by trusting in them and encouraging them.  There are other players with the same talent that did not lead their teams.  What did he do differently?  How about Boy Scout leaders?  You can probably think of one or two who while they were with the group, it grew and produced eagle scouts.  Jack was one of those.  He taught business classes at the college and had a stuttering problem.  Those boys followed him to the bluffs in the snow, into the rivers with canoe training, through countless activities and it became the troop you joined if you were serious about earning your eagle badge.  Mr. Keller was a Boy Scout leader with an Eagle badge.  The average Boy Scout in his troop lasted about 2 years, and most didn’t make it past Tenderfoot.  He’d schedule activities where the only one that showed up was his son, the only one in the troop that got an Eagle badge.  Scott had multiple leaders and no lack of volunteers.  Mr. Keller couldn’t keep a scout leader under any circumstances.  They both had the same pool of boys to draw from and the same pool of parents.  1 had an Eagle Scout factory, the other struggled to survive.  What did Jack do differently?

We will explore the different aspects of leadership over the next weeks to help define these techniques in leadership.

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