Many individuals consider themselves leadership material. When asked, they will often offer all the rhetoric and platitudes that far too many associate with being a leader. They use all the catchy phrases and jargon that they learn from books, seminars, or some self- appointed leadership gurus. However, after over three decades of involvement in nearly every aspect of leadership, from owning my own companies, to being an executive for someone else’s company, to being an executive for a not- for- profit organization, to identifying, qualifying and training others to be leaders, to leadership consulting, I have come to understand that all the fancy rhetoric does not make someone a leader. Neither does holding a position of leadership, because that is far different than actually being a leader. Perhaps one of the best summations of what being a leader is really all about was said by John C. Maxwell, when he said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
1. What does Maxwell mean by “knows the way?” Leadership expertise arrives from many years of training, learning, and development. Training alone does not make someone a leader, unless they are also willing to convert that training into actual learning, by understanding it, questioning, and getting valuable experience. This, in turn, creates an atmosphere of gaining knowledge from those experiences, and productive knowledge and meaningful experiences combined with developed skills are the basic ingredients in creating the wisdom required to develop valuable expertise.
2. All that knowledge alone still does not make someone a leader. That is where Maxwell’s “goes the way” comes in. In evaluating if someone will potentially become a true and effective leader, observe whether they merely talk about things, or if they instead lead the way by showing others what needs to be done, and leading by example. I recently published a book that emphasized the need for a leader to adopt a show me type of behavior, and to always lead by example. Only when others realize that a leader feels strongly enough about something to get his hands dirty and be hands on, will they feel comfortable in following. The adage that actions speak louder than words is even more relevant when it comes to real leadership.
3. Unless a leader is willing to communicate openly and motivate others to action, he is not fulfilling his duty as a leader. Showing the way involves opening the eyes of others to accept your vision as important enough to adopt as their own.
There are many phases involved in becoming a great leader. There are no shortcuts, or half- way methods of doing this properly. It takes commitment, vision, belief, inner strength, absolute integrity, and an overwhelming desire to create value for others.