Updated: Aug 23, 2019
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?
Few other areas have 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 one performs these functions during their work with other people
they fill leadership functions and by so doing become leaders.
Other approaches relate to behavior in certain situations – i.e. Situational Leadership (Blanchard). Additional approaches are based on ethics or 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 they 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 themselves as responsible for the reality around them. They believes that even if they were not responsible for the circumstances around them, they are responsible for coping with and taking care of them. Their responsibility is not on a theoretical level but on a practical and immediate one. They will never point to other people as. They will not blame nor complain, and will take a responsible, practical stance that revolves around their 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 they can create a desired future reality. They do not focus on current reality, its difficulties and its problems but current reality as a point of departure. Their responsibility is creative. They create a vision from this position or a desired future reality and then a path that will lead this reality. A leader considers current reality as the raw material from which they can create a different one. If this pe rson is consistent in their stance they 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 is on them. 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 themselves from undesired to desired situations and structures. Out of this self leadership they establish a leader's presence. This presence enables them, over time, to lead others as well towards a desired future reality. Thus, the leader becomes a personal example of what they stands for.
They are not static - they initiate and motivate. 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 Iacocca who grew up as a poor kid in the Bronx and became the leader of Chrysler in its heyday.
D. I learn and I develop
A person who will become a leader believes that they learn and develop as a way of life. That is to say, they are open and accept learning, feedback, self-improvement and development. They do not become too personal or emotionally involved in every success or failure, yet consider them as opportunities for growth. This increases the trust they get and the ability of others to cooperate with them. This stance enables a leader to grow prior to becoming one as well as to grow and develop throughout their leadership years.
Thus, they improve over time.
An example of such a leader is Nelson Mandela. As a young man Mandela was incarcerated as a terrorist for the ANC. 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 their expression yet. They see it in themselves and therefore they are capable of growing, developing and becoming "greater". They see this also in others. A leader believes that people can bring more of themselves - more help, more contribution and more motivation. A part of their leadership is about enabling people to express their greatness and potential on the way towards a better 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 themselves - the talent, the ability and the greatness. This identification enables them 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 they do not digress from their path despite the traps along the way.
The way of the leader involves many traps. If the leader falls into these traps then they will not become true leaders. These traps include:
A. The ego trap - leadership is not about ego. Leadership is always focused on leading towards a certain vision, a certain potential. It is focused on something that is bigger than the person. A focus on 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. Their role is to lead and materialize the things they believe in and stands for. Their 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 they want 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 undermine their own leadership.
E. The power and corruption trap - "Power corrupts - absolute power corrupts absolutely." This nice Latin adage 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, Nicolae Ceaușescu and many others).
A leader can 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.