Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Leadership needs, well - leaders. W. Edwards Deming made that abundantly clear when I heard him speak decades ago.
Years ago someone told me that leadership was "an influential relationship with followers."  That seems true, but deserves some thinking.
Followers must be willing to do what you want them to do. I suppose you could have negative leaders, where the followers do precisely what you don’t want them to do. A clever negative leader would then propose plans for the opposite of what he really wanted to accomplish. So if he planned to fail, and did, would he really succeed? Let's not follow that train of thought…
There are a lot of leaders. These are the ones that came to my mind immediately and not in any particular order.
Jesus Christ. You can argue his divinity, perhaps try to argue his even existence, but you cannot argue the impact that Jesus of Nazareth had on the world. When I look at my list of leadership characteristics Jesus has them all (with the possible exception of adaptability).
Robin Hood. Okay, he was just a legend, but I wrote about him in a previous post, and I certainly think he had leadership skills.
Genghis Khan. The guy conquered most of the Eastern World with a horde of barbarians. Not only did that take tons of stamina and manpower, it took a plan, as well as a long-term vision. I doubt The Khan ("Kirk! KIRK!") ever sat in his tent at night watching his personal version of Dancing with the Stars and said “Gee, I don’t know who we should conquer tomorrow.” The guy had vision. He sold that vision to his people and persuaded them to follow him, leaving an indelible stamp on the Eastern world. AND he forced the Chinese to build that amazing wall.
Queen of Sheba. Okay, she is legendary, but she ruled an entire nation, one whose wealth apparently rivaled the wealth of King Solomon. I have to infer that she had the qualities of a great leader. Whether she also became the mother of Solomon's son is also legendary, so I'll just leave it there.
Alexander the Great. I include him for the same reason I included the Khan. Before his mid-thirties Alex (as his friends called him) consolidated the known world, which included parts of the western world and parts of the eastern world. The rest of the world remained unknown, probably by decree. “If I don’t know about it, then it doesn’t exist. Take it off the map.” I’m sure Alex said this as he rode Bucephalus along the western shore of India. When he conquered a land he made them part of his country, a practice later adopted by the Romans. He had a vision and must have communicated it well, since he kept most of his personal troops away from home for years.
Yes, I know she isn't
REALLY Cleopatra
Cleopatra. She was famous, certainly. She also wielded tremendous power and swayed the Roman Empire. That's persuasion. I can't even find a last name for her. I mean I could just say "Churchill" or "Hitler" and you'd probably know who I mean, but "Cleopatra" is all we need for her - and all we will ever need.
Winston Churchill. The man wasn’t nice, he wasn’t polite and he was full of himself. By all accounts he smoked nasty cigars and drank a lot. However, he held together a hurting nation, a disillusioned and downtrodden people. When he spoke, people listened and they believed. His single-minded vision (for his country to survive the war), his communication skills and his persuasive skills gave a country certainty that the sunrise would bring victory.
Adolph Hitler. Oh, you can object that he was a bad man and committed genocide, and I won't argue with you. I'm not saying he was a good guy; I'm saying he was a leader. Hitler had a plan, made some brilliant decisions, chose the right people, persuaded an entire nation to implement his personal world view. He had a vision of Germany that he shared effectively with the people in his country. Yes, he made them think too highly of themselves and they led the conquest and slaughter of tens of millions of people and ignited another global war. These aren't good things, but they are the kinds of things a leader can do. (I have to point out that the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s was horrendous also, but did not receive global attention.)
George Washington. Washington is one of the few historical leaders with an anecdotal story about his integrity. That's pretty rare. I don’t believe the popular story about the cherry tree. What George really said to his Dad was “I could lie to you about that stupid tree, Dad, but I won’t. I chopped it down and used it to make a new stock for your rifle, a humidor for your cigars and a writing desk for Mom.” Washington didn’t even want to be President of the United States, but the people elected him anyway. He did the job, then went home and had a real life. I have to love that about the guy. “Leave the politics to Hamilton,” he probably said. Hamilton isn’t on my list.
Abraham Lincoln. I have to include Honest Abe. He had integrity and he had vision. They named a really nice car after him. Lincoln did what he had to do. He was a strong leader, and he died because of his beliefs. You can be a martyr without being a leader, of course.
Chuck Norris. Okay, I'll admit I don't know if Chuck Norris is a great leader or not, but he could single-handedly kick the butts of all these other guys and then kick mine without breaking a sweat, so he's on my list. Plus, he does have integrity and I admire him for a lot of things he accomplished in life. Accomplishments alone do not create a leader, but they can certainly highlight one.
There are many listed characteristics of an outstanding leader, but I think they need to have most of the following (though not all of them):
Communication/Persuasive skills
Ability to listen, and make decisions
Planning skills
Ability to work with teams
Ability to develop and maintain relationships
Ability to coach others

I personally think that a truly great leader knows he cannot lead alone, so he must also have the skill to choose the right people to help achieve his vision. (I used "he" as the generic, by the way, meaning men and women!)
If I search for a list of leaders on the internet I find lots of lists. I really cannot argue with any of them. Here is an incomplete summary of the lists I gathered, in alphabetical order.
Abraham Lincoln
Albert Einstein
Alexander the Great
Count Basie, Pianist and Bandleader
Dale Carnegie
Douglas MacArthur, United States General and WWII Hero
Eleanor Roosevelt, Former First Lady and Social Reformer
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States
Gandhi, Mohandas
Genghis Khan
Gloria Steinem, Writer and Feminist Leader
Golda Meir, Former Prime Minister of Israel
James T. Kirk, Captain of the USS Enterprise
Jesus Christ
Joseph II
Martin Luther King Jr., Minister and Leader of the American Civil Rights Movement
Mother Teresa
Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay
Nelson Mandela, Political Prisoner-Turned-South African President
Norman Vincent Peale
Oprah Winfrey, Media Mogul and Humanitarian
Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church's Supreme Pontiff for 27 Years
Queen Elizabeth I
Steve Jobs, Co-Founder and CEO of Apple Inc.
Vince Lombardi, Legendary Coach of the Green Bay Packers
Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister

Now, here's the thing. All of these people are famous, yet I look at my life and it is full of leaders, people who will remain unsung outside the song of my own life. My Dad was a leader to his four boys, as was my Mom. Each of my brothers is an amazing leader. Darling is a leader to many of the women in our church (and she probably doesn't even realize it). The visions and plans differ, but the efforts are ongoing and daily.
So how many followers do you need to be a leader? I think it only takes one. Even without followers, though, the qualities of a leader are worth cultivating.
One more thing: you don't need to be a leader all the time, but everyone gets the opportunity. You just need to look around - and not follow.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm. Good post. Glad I saw it when I did -- I'm almost at the Teaching Philosophy part of my paper, and so seeing a list of leadership traits gives me an opportunity to evaluate what I am about to say.

    (I'm being very cooperative in my leadership style, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't still ASPIRE to be like Chuck Norris. More workouts required. Must ponder.)

    Love you!