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“I don’t want to be a leader.”  This statement by a colleague caught me off guard since I always have seen him as one.  He went on to explain that he doesn’t have professional ambitions and he works to live and doesn’t live to work.  Then it dawned on me that he and I had different working definitions of a leader.  His definition of a leader is one who is.

  • In a position of power.  That power may be gotten by intense, hard work or by “kissing up” or by some means my colleague isn’t interested in.
  • The solver of every problem and issue that arises in his organization.  My colleague believed the unpleasant stuff rolled up hill, not down.
  • The master of the political game that has to be played to reach this position.  This is a game my friend has no interest in and would merely pull him away from doing the job he loves and his life outside of work.

With that as his definition, of course he doesn’t want to be a leader.  I don’t want to be that leader either.

While some of these parts of his definition may be true at times (especially bullet 2), my definition looks quite different and is inspired by my experience and the writing of James Hunter in “The Servant” and the pioneer in servant leadership, Robert K. Greenleaf.  This definition has three foundational parts and those are one who.

  1. Has the intention to make a difference, aligns his or her actions with those intentions and chooses the behavior that will positively impact those they touch.  Some call those behaviors love.  Rather than naming them, I like to simply focus on the choices themselves. generous versus stingy, kind versus mean-spirited, respectful versus rude, forgiving versus holding a grudge.  These are choices all of us make, whether a leader or not, but they are the beginning of having the type of influence a leader can have.
  2. Serves to and sacrifices for the legitimate needs of others.  Notice that I say needs and not wants.  This again can apply to all of us, but for those specifically on the leadership journey, it is your task to search out and determine the legitimate needs of those we touch.  That includes direct reports, peers, bosses, vendors and anyone else where influence is possible.
  3. Has a bit of foresight and can see out a little further out than others and says, “This is what I see.  Come on, let’s go in this direction.”

There are certainly many more elements and distinctions that may make one a leader, especially in an organizational setting, but these three elements position you to have the type of authority and influence that can make a real difference in both the organization and the lives of those who choose to follow you.

The interesting thing is these shoes can be filled by anyone, not just those in senior positions or executive roles but also by humble “role players” who ultimately can have as much or more influence than those is actual positions of power.

I invite you to abandon the old paradigm of a leader that my colleague has and step into new leadership shoes.  You might be shocked where they take you.

Questions to get you into action:

What has been your traditional definition of a leader?

What are three new choices you can make about how you behave towards others?

Who will you interact with today that you can determine their legitimate needs?

Jeff HarmonJeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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