You may not have realized this letter is for you because you aren’t used to being called “Leader,” but I promise, the name captures your role. There are many of us in a position of leadership that do not realize it. Mentors, coaches, teachers, parents, pastors, administrators, and many more come under the call of a leader so, you qualify.
I’m writing because I realized something that was missing from my own consciousness as a leader and wanted to make sure you knew about it so you could bring this in if it is missing for you too. You see, I spend most of my time in one or more of the titles I mentioned before and they all look very similar. In fact, the differences really have nothing at all to do with me, but with the people I’m engaged with at the time.
With my clients I’m a mentor or coach, not a parent. Parenting is exclusively for my children and even though I do coach and mentor them, that isn’t what they call me. I teach Sunday School, administer on boards of directors, and minister in service organizations, and all of them entail leadership. You can see why I called you “Leader,” because you have many similar roles.
As a leader I have always thought my goal was to bring those following me up to where I am. That’s the essence of leadership after all. People follow because they believe the leader has a better view of what’s up ahead. It seems rather noble to bring them to the same level.
Sitting here now, as I write this to you, the goal of helping others achieve the same level as me seems less noble and shiny than before because I have seen something much greater.
To understand where I’m headed, let me ask you a couple of questions that I asked myself. For who’s benefit are you leading? What happens when they reach your level?
If my goal is to get others to the place I am, there is definite value for them. In the area of which I’m leading, they make progress and become more than they were… but then what? If I am established as the leader and bring them to my level, all I’ve done is create a crowd. I do not have any place left for them to go (we’ve reached the goal) and haven’t prepared them to continue on.
To know how to prevent such a situation I have to answer the first question. For who’s benefit am I leading? In total transparency, I believe my own subconscious motivation many times was for my benefit. Yes, my conscious purpose was to help others grow, but I never thought past myself.
Leading is about the welfare of the people following, therefore, the motivation to lead has to center on what is best for them. You have to make up your own mind about how this looks for you, but as for me, I have a new goal as a leader: To see the people I lead exceed me. So how does that look?
First, it changes the way I lead and the culture I create. When I concentrate on leading in a way that people walk in the full expression of who they are, not just how much like me they can be, they have full permission to chase greatness! If I am trying to bring them to my level, I become the bottleneck and the lid. My path is the only path and my level is the limit.
There is also the responsibility of the follower/student to, take in the guidance of the leader and bring it out through their own gifts, abilities, and experiences. The goal of learning is not to become the same as the one teaching, but to become more of yourself. In this way, the goal of the student should be to exceed the teacher.
Our society has gotten so fearful of being overtaken that many leaders have a mindset that sees exceptional followers as potential threats. In return, exceptional followers have learned to guard themselves and think of their leaders as a hindrance. No one wins.
I’m convinced, the best leaders want their followers to exceed them, but that idea isn’t mine… I borrowed it. No, not from some contemporary management guru. In John 14:12, Jesus says, “…whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do…”
We aren’t talking about your basic, run-of-the-mill ‘works’ in this passage. He meant things like healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and raising the dead to mention a few. And He said, “…and GREATER works than these will he do”! In many ways, Jesus is an impossible standard to live up to, but He said we can exceed Him in what we accomplish.
If the very man I place my eternal life on was focused on His followers exceeding Him, shouldn’t my focus be there too?
So in closing, I have two things… never stop growing as a person and pray that we become good enough leaders that the people following us will someday, somehow exceed us. Embrace your greatness and encourage the greatness in others so that we all can experience the life Jesus came to proclaim.
Be your best,
PS – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I always appreciate hearing from you.