Leadership has always been an area filled with mystery, vagueness and speculation.
Are you born a leader or do you become a leader?
Do leaders respond to needs or situations in the right time and thus become leaders?
Is leadership based on character or is it based on behavior?
Can anyone become a leader given certain circumstances?
No other area has been as thoroughly researched as leadership and many theories have been written on the subject.
Some of the theories are based on behavior, for example, a leader who inspires trust, a leader who conveys a vision, a leader who directs different systems, a leader that cultivates talent (S. Covey 2008). The basic idea in these approaches is that when a (man) person performs these functions during his work with other people he fills leadership functions and by so doing he becomes a leader.
Other approaches relate to behavior in certain situations - Situational Leadership (Blanchard). Additional approaches are based on ethics of character. These approaches claim that a leader has characteristics such as responsibility, initiative, determination etc. once a person has developed these characteristics there is a chance that he will become a leader.
I would like to present a somewhat different approach to leadership in the following article. This approach is based upon the idea of leadership from the inside out.
The basic idea is that leadership begins by taking an inner stance vis-à-vis external reality. These stances usually exist before the external need arises.
Once the external need arises the basic stance of the person can turn him into a leader.
According to this approach, the basic stances of a person who can become a leader are:
A. I am responsible
A person who will become a leader perceives himself as responsible for the reality around him. He believes that even if he was not the one responsible for the circumstances around him, he is responsible for coping with and taking care of them. His responsibility is not on a theoretical level but on a practical and immediate one. He will never point to other people as responsible (even though the Hebrew root for "others" and "responsible" is the same). He will not blame nor complain, he will take a responsible, practical stance that revolves around his ability to influence and solve every situation at hand.
Gandhi is a great example of a person who was living in India which was divided and split and ruled by the British Empire for hundreds of years. Gandhi took upon himself the responsibility to solve this situation in a series of complex and sophisticated moves that lasted many years.
B. I create future reality (myself)
A person who will become a leader believes wholeheartedly that he can create a desired future reality. He does not focus on current reality, its difficulties and its problems. He considers current reality as a point of departure. His responsibility is creative. He creates a vision from this position or a desired future reality and then he creates a path that will lead this reality. He considers current reality the raw material from which he can create a different reality. If this person is consistent in his stance he will motivate others who want the same future reality.
A good example of such leader is Martin Luther King who had a vision of a different future reality for black people in the United States. This reality materialized in the years that followed and culminated in the election of Barack Obama for president.
C. I am leading
A person who will become a leader believes that the onus of responsibility lies on him. Leadership is a movement from existing structures and situations to future structures and situations. Movement necessitates energy and direction. A leader takes the responsibility to lead and every act of leadership begins with self leadership. Therefore, a leader is first and foremost focused on leading himself from undesired situations and structures to desired situations and structures. Out of this self leadership he establishes a leader's presence. This presence enables him, throughout time, to lead others as well towards a desired future reality. Thus the leader becomes a personal example of what he stands for.
He is not static - he initiates and motivates. Self motivation and external motivation stem from two possible sources: the rejection of an undesired present or the attraction of a desired future.
Examples of such leaders are:
Mother Teresa who grew in the slums of Albania and became the leader of a global movement that aids lepers in India.
Jack Welch who became CEO of GE after starting as an engineer, leading the company to spectacular results.
Lee Ayakoka who grew up as a poor kid in the Bronx and became the leader of Chrysler during its heyday.
D. I learn and I develop
A person who will become a leader believes that he learns and develops as a way of life. That is to say, he is open and accepts learning, feedback, self improvement and development. He does not become too personal or emotionally involved in every success or failure, yet he considers them as opportunities for growth. This increases the trust he gets and the ability of others to cooperate with him. This stance enables him to grow prior to becoming a leader as well as to grow and develop throughout his leadership years.
Thus he improves throughout time.
An example of such a leader is Nelson Mandela. As a young man Mandela was incarcerated as a terrorist for the ANC terrorist movement. During his years in prison he learned and developed and became an ethical and moral leader who could bring the Apartheid government down without violence, revenge or grudge.
E. There is potential greatness in me and in others
A person who will become a leader believes that people have greatness that did not find its expression yet. He sees it in himself and therefore he is capable of growing, developing and becoming "greater". He sees this also in others. A leader believes that people can bring more of themselves - more help, more contribution and more motivation. A part of his leadership consists in enabling people to express their greatness and potential on the way towards a better future reality.
This stance also provides the people around the leader with a space to perform contribute and develop and this attracts other people. This stance is also the basis of charisma - "God's gift" in Greek.
It is said that leaders have charisma - a special divine gift.
Nevertheless every person comes with an assortment of gifts from birth: different abilities, different skills.
A leader is someone who identifies God's gift within himself - the talent, the ability and the greatness. This identification enables him to increase the presence of this greatness, work with it, and create with it, until it is recognized by others.
These five principles form the inner stance that evolves into leadership.
The Hebrew root of leadership consists of the letters n.h.g.
Interestingly, three Hebrew words that characterize leadership begin with those letters: presence, leadership, greatness.
Out of these stances a person can encounter a reality and become a leader by transforming this reality into a desired future reality. Throughout this process the leader undergoes transformation as well and translates these stances into actions.
The performance of a leader derives from these stances and he does not digress from his path despite the traps along the way.
The way of the leader involves many traps. If the leader falls into these traps then he will not become a true leader. These traps include:
A. The ego trap - leadership is not about the ego. True leadership is always focused on leading towards a certain vision, a certain potential. It is focused upon something that is bigger than the person himself. A focus upon the ego and its importance, leads to a pathetic and dangerous kind of leadership. Therefore, we see that in great leaders there is basic simplicity and humility. They consider themselves as a tool or a catalyzing agent that enables the desired reality to materialize.
David Ben-Gurion is an example of a humble leader who led to the establishment of the state of Israel and the creation of the Jewish state and was modest and humble.
B. The popularity trap - rating is the antithesis of leadership. A leader does not lead towards rating. A leader does not care for popularity either. His role is to lead and materialize the things he believes in and stands for. His zeal and inspiration do not require any rating.
C. The image trap - modern day leaders need a leader image. This image consists of clothing, behavior, status symbols and so on and so forth. The leader is surrounded by image consultants who create the desired image he wants according to their opinion and "public opinion." This trap is related to the former two traps. Great leadership does not require an image (ben Gurion, Gandhi, Mandela), it operates from the inside out and not from the outside in.
D. The zigzag trap - a leader leads to a clear destination. He does not zigzag according to popularity, circumstances or other people's opinions. A zigzagging leader generates mistrust and undermines his own leadership.
E. The power and corruption trap - "Power corrupts - absolute power corrupts absolutely." This nice Latin proverb is relevant even today. Many leaders forget this concept once they reach a senior managing position. They become intoxicated by power and strength. They deal with corruption and lose their vision and sense of mission along the way. In the next stage they invest all their energy in preserving their status and position along with the material benefits that accompany their position (Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, Chauchesku and many others).
A leader is able to avoid these traps by staying alert and aware while focusing extensively on the vision and the situation at large. Such leaders lead businesses, organizations and nations towards a better future. The common definition of such a leader is a moral leader.
The world is in dire need and hope for such leaders today as such leaders are scarce. This might also be a partial explanation to the hope that many felt when they elected Barack Obama for the president of the United States.
I am using the pronoun "he" for convenience sake. This applies to both men and women.