Who calls you leader?

Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked. They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” … Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, he followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” – 1 Kings 12:6-15 NIV


“A leader without followers is a man simply taking a stroll”  – John Maxwell


So much has been written and taught about the science and the art of leadership in recent years. Some of the concepts are very educating but suffice it to say that quite a number of them are also obfuscating. I recently met a group of young people who prefix their names with the title ‘Leader’. Even though I tried to convince them that leadership is not a title but a disposition and a function, I am not sure I succeeded.

I do not intend to add to the unending polemics on whether leadership is a science, art or both. I simply want to look at leadership from a perspective that few often consider.

Leadership is an innate attribute of every man or woman. Your leadership is that distinct thing about you that defines the essence of your being and the platform of your contribution to the human project. Leader is what people call you as your function in relation to them may indicate. The title ‘leader’ therefore must be an outflow of the discovery and display of the innate qualities and values that drive the individual’s function. The implication of that is that a titular position only helps to amplify the manifestation of innate leadership rather than produce it.

You may hold a title, a position or an enhanced social status that gives you control over some people. That being the case, you could be regarded as their leader. But in reality, do they see you as such? This gives rise to the question, “Who calls you leader?” Several people can call you leader by virtue of your position and the authority that that confers on you in relation to them. The question however is, how many of them really see you as their leader in the real sense of the word?

If people around you call you leader, why do they? How many of such really follow you? If by any chance you leave the position that confers the added advantage of control over them, what would change in the relationship?

Or are you called leader by the organization? This makes you a titular head with enhanced perks and the paraphernalia of office. In that case, people only defer to your office, not your person. If your subordinates call you leader only by virtue of your supervisory role over them, the question remains, will they call you leader if their salary, promotion and deployment did not depend on you?

Is ‘Father’ or ‘Mother’ what biology makes you to your children or they call you that because that is what you actually are to them by the quality of  responsibility exercised in that capacity? Are you a husband or wife because you signed the dotted lines or because your spouse can confidently boast of your functions in that role?

True functional leadership therefore is not a pursuit. It is what others give to you. Training, skill development. talent, persuasiveness and continuous learning are essential ingredients of leadership development. As germane as these are to effective leadership function, they are not the determining factors for the acknowledgement and acceptance of your leadership. You are not a leader until the group you lead says so even behind your back especially when they have no evident reason to sing your praise.

Sycophancy is not an acceptance of your leadership. It is simply an attempt to massage your ego to procure personal advantage. The concern of a sycophant is himself and not you. Those who run others down around you to curry your favour will run you down before others from whom they intend to benefit at your expense.

Leadership is bestowed on you by those who subscribe to your vision and values and CHOOSE to follow you. Simply put, followers actually hold the final power to determine who leads them. Interestingly enough, what makes you a leader to some is the same thing that makes you a villain to others.

Leadership is earned by authentic relationships and integrity-based character. Leadership may be assigned to you as a role but it is not sustainable until it is accepted by a followership. The right that the group gives you to lead it is the very platform of your leadership. A leader has been described as someone that his followers would follow blindfolded. When he asks his followers to jump, they only ask, “How high?”

The story is told of Emperor Napoleon going to battle. Surrounded and seemingly overwhelmed by enemy troops, he led his men to the edge of a cliff and shouted to the enemy on the other side, “Surrender now!” His demand sounded very preposterous. Seeing that the enemy was not going to give in easily, he told one of his men to move to the tip of the cliff. Then he gave the order, “Jump!” The young officer wasted no time in jumping to his death. Again he shouted to the enemy troops, “Surrender!” They did not oblige him. He called another soldier and gave the same instruction given to the first one. “Jump!” The response was instant. Seeing that even when seemingly outnumbered, Napoleon’s men had no qualms about dying at the instance of their leader, the enemy troop promptly surrendered.

What is the critical factor that bridges assigned leadership and accepted leadership? It is TRUST and SERVICE. People only yield leadership to those they can trust. When you give people quality service and they can trust you, you can lead from any level. At that point, people defer to you, not because of a title or position but because of who you have proved to be to them over time, trustworthy and absolutely reliable. That being the case, when people call you leader, they actually mean it!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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