A friend of mine is a successful businessman and entrepreneur who also serves as a board member of a non-profit community organization. On the board, Rob (not his real name) often offers insightful comments and good advice that matches his good business sense. Yet when asked to serve as a board officer, Rob quotes the notorious General William Tecumseh Sherman when asked if he would seek presidential office,
“If nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve.”
To Serve or Not To Serve
Many would-be leaders have the same attitude as Sherman.
- It is extreme irony that Rob will not serve at a higher level as a leader since he is already leading in a number of roles.
- Rob will not seek a higher level of leadership because he is fearful of failure.
- He has not found the leader within…he has not discovered the quintessential leader that he could be.
Can you relate to Rob? I know I can. Even the best of leaders falter at times…me included. On a weekend vacation I was recently doing a detailed reading of John Maxwell’s leadership book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect in which he lists “Four Unpardonable Sins of a Communicator”: being unprepared, uncommitted, uninteresting, or uncomfortable.
Maxwell’s words hit me head on as I recounted my lack of leadership in one of my roles.
The greatest mistake of leadership is not a failure to succeed but a failure to lead.
In fact, the greatest failures of leadership are not a lack of experience, a lack of training, a lack of education, or lack of resources but usually a failure of one to engage.
Avoiding Leadership Failure
Four ways to avoid a failure to lead are:
- Engage as a leader.
- Engage at the right time.
- Engage with enough energy to see the project through.
- Engage other leaders around you to help and eventually take over the project.
1. ENGAGE AS A LEADER
The only way to lead is to lead! It sounds ridiculous, but it is true. Many people who are in THE prime place to lead never engage. Perhaps you understand the issues better than anyone else, you have the authority to lead, and people are looking at you and anticipating action, but you are waiting.
Perhaps you are waiting for someone else to step up to the plate. Maybe you are hoping the problem will just go away.
Other excuses may include:
- I don’t have the experience.
- I don’t have the time.
- I don’t have the education.
- I don’t think others respect me.
- I don’t want to keep someone else from their opportunity to lead.
- I’m not leadership material.
Based on the listed excuses, you will never be ready to lead. Moses used virtually every one of these excuses in Exodus 3 and 4 when talking with the Creator and God did not let him off the hook but kept handing the job to him. Moses had to engage. It was during the process and time of leadership that Moses became Moses instead of a nameless adopted son of a pharaoh in Egypt.
Only through the action of leading will the leader in you emerge.
2. ENGAGE AT THE RIGHT TIME
In baseball, the difference between swinging the bat too early, too late, and on time can be either a foul ball or a home run. It’s that way with leadership too.
As a leader you must engage at the right time.
Crisis situations require instant leadership. Other situations may allow decision and strategy time, but a large part of successful leadership is timing. Great leaders have an intuitive understanding of timing which creates the highest possible involvement of others who are empowered to assist…also called buy-in.
By engaging at the right time, they increase the number of others working on the same problem. If you are waiting for the problem to resolve itself or go away…it will probably only get worse.
3. ENGAGE WITH ENOUGH ENERGY TO SEE THE PROJECT THROUGH
Introverted leaders (S & C on the DISC profile) are often tempted to disengage too early before the full success is achieved. The reason for this is that their reserve for directing energy toward others is less.
On the other hand, extroverted leaders (D & I on the DISC profile) have a tendency to either delegate the leadership role too early or declare victory prematurely. Great leaders see the big picture of the project so they pace their energy or know how to replenish it along the way in order to complete the task. I believe the greatest leaders lead out of energy overflow instead of reserves.
The overflow principle is a Psalm 23 concept by which one does not manufacture her own energy but is continuously using overflow from God’s inexhaustible energy resources. Overflow may be defined as finding one’s fulfillment, satisfaction, worth, and esteem in Christ which results in greater energy overflow.
Show me an exhausted leader and I will show you a leader who is leading out of his own exhaustible reserves that will eventually run dry.
The greatest leaders learn to tap in to the Psalm 23 overflow to the point of directing and investing energy overflow into others on purpose to add value to them. Read Psalm 23 again while considering the Overflow Principle:
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil;My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
Psalms 23:1-6 (NKJV) (emphasis mine)
Note verses 3 and 5 where the Lord “restores my soul” and “my cup runs over.” These illustrate the Overflow Principle of Leadership.
4. ENGAGE OTHER LEADERS AROUND YOU TO ASSIST
Engage other leaders around you to help and eventually take over the project. A great leader intuitively scans for people in the organization who possess the abilities and willingness to assist and eventually take over a project. “Willingness” is often the only quality that separates a new leader from everyone else.
Mentoring and coaching are often the only disciplines that separate average leaders from great leaders. Great leaders mentor and coach emerging leaders. In fact this may be a distinguishing difference between managers and leaders. The difference between leaders and managers is coaching & mentoring emerging leaders.
Leaders add value to new leaders while managers often feel threatened.
Don’t miss your opportunity to be the leader you were meant to be. Find the leader within! Here is a quote from Kate Chopin’s book The Awakening:
“She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.”
It is time for you to cast aside that fictitious apparition of yourself as one who fears to lead and allow the leader within you to emerge. Do it now!
- What are your attitudes toward other leaders? If you distrust other leaders then you will not want to become a leader until you learn to trust.
- What excuses are keeping you from engaging as a leader? There are few legitimate “reasons.”
- How are you using the “Overflow Principle of Leadership” or not?
- List the leadership qualities you and others see in you that have potential.
(This article by Dr. Tom Cocklereece was originally published on Linked2Leadership May 17, 2011.)
Dr. Tom Cocklereece is CEO of RENOVA Coaching and Consulting, LLC
Author “Simple Discipleship,” contributing writer L2L Blogazine
He is a pastor, an author, professional coach, and leadership specialist
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