We’re in the silly season, the time of U.S. presidential primaries, and one effect of the media assault is that it makes us examine this thing called “leadership.”
It’s easy to think of leadership as something that relates only to the elite few: the CEO, the president, the general, the boss. But silly season notwithstanding, leadership happens everywhere — in our communities and our work, our relationships and families, and every domain of our lives.
The question is not whether we’re called to leadership. (We all are.) The question is how we answer that call. Because there are two kinds of leadership.
- You can take leadership.
- Or you can give leadership.
Taking leadership is the general who seizes power, the revolutionary who topples the king and assumes control, the corporate raider who engineers a takeover. Not to say that taking leadership is necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, especially in times of turbulence, the situation desperately calls for someone to take the helm before the ship hits the rocks.
But taking leadership always carries within itself a risk—because taking is taking. Leadership taken so easily slips into dominance, and dominance into tyranny.
Then there is giving leadership.
Rather than seizing the wheel, giving leadership is reaching for a friend’s hand and laying it on the wheel. Rather than stepping up for others to follow, being the one who encourages others to step up themselves.Giving #leadership is reaching for a friend’s hand and laying it on the wheel. Click To Tweet
It’s so easy (and so tempting) to use a leadership position as a stepping stone for building one’s own portfolio. A giving leader sees that leadership position as a way to build, promote, and prosper the enterprise and its people. It is leadership with an other focus, rather than a me focus.
A Roman aristocrat named Cincinnatus fell on hard times and was forced to live as a farmer. When Rome was invaded, Cincinnatus was named dictator for a six-month term. He led the Roman army into battle, dispatched the enemy—then immediately resigned his office, just two weeks into his term, and went back to his fields, turning the reins of power back over to the people.
In more recent times, George Washington happily relinquished his station as commander in chief once the Revolutionary War was won, declining the offer of what would have been virtually monarchial powers.
There are living exemplars of giving leadership right in our midst today, too, from Bob Chapman (Barry-Wehmiller) to David Novak (YUM! Brands), Kat Cole (Focus Brands) to Howard Schultz (Starbucks). They’re also right around the corner, in your local diners and neighborhood centers. In fact, once you start looking for examples of giving leadership, you find they’re everywhere.
Even in the mirror.Once you start looking for examples of giving leadership, you find they’re everywhere. Even in… Click To Tweet
Because the truth is, we don’t just elect leaders. We are leaders.