Leadership: Not If, But What


Influence can be positive or negative, but it cannot be absent or neutral.

There's an old saying that goes: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!” This assumes that a person can exert a neutral influence by simply “getting out of the way.” I disagree. Even the act of neutrality sends a message. You cannot NOT lead. This statement may reflect poor grammar, but it communicates a fundamental truth about leadership.

The only issue is the nature of my influence and my leadership, not its existence. I may lead in a positive sense or I may exert a negative influence. Either way, I am a leader.

Which of the following are examples of leadership?

  • An assistant handling an irate person over the phone with patience and kindness
  • A businessman who stops to visit with a homeless person and takes him to a café for a meal and some conversation
  • A mother with a child at any time of day
  • A Marine sergeant who issues a command that puts his men in harm’s way in order to complete their mission
  • A high school baseball coach who curses an official in the presence of his players
  • A government official who receives a bribe in exchange for awarding a contract
  • An elementary school teacher who helps their class learn to appreciate the beauty of nature
  • A handicapped person who displays grace, joy, and courage in front of family and coworkers
  • A deacon who visits a church member in the hospital
  • A college student who helps an overburdened classmate with an important paper
  • An angry driver who makes an obscene gesture to another driver during rush hour traffic

Actually, all of the above are examples of leadership. As you can see, influence can be either positive or negative. It can be one or the other, but it cannot be absent or neutral. In addition, leadership can be obvious (a Marine sergeant issuing a command) or hidden (an official receiving a bribe). It can be very specific (a coach who curses an umpire) or general (a handicapped person living with courage).

However, each of these examples comes down to one crucial decision. It is the decision either to serve others or to serve ourself. How are you leading today? Who are you serving?

Written by Brett Selby


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