What does it mean to lead?
That’s a question every leader must answer sooner or later, especially those who want to improve their leadership skills. After reading several books on leadership (especially the excellent The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner), I wanted to tackle the question from a different angle: Who would I want to follow?
I thought about the kind of people I’d be willing to follow, and the key word that coming to mind was trust.
- I’d follow a person to teach me Taekwondo if I could trust their skills in that martial art.
- I’d follow a person to take me from Mexico City to Puebla if I could trust their experience and knowledge of the language and region.
- I’d follow a person to advise me on running a board meeting if I could trust their understanding of protocol, interpersonal relationships, and group dynamics.
In every case, what would prompt me to follow that person is the sense that I could trust their character, competence, convictions, care (or a combination of these) to take me the right direction.
From there it was easier to develop an answer to the question, “What does it mean for me to to lead?”
To lead is to relate to people in such a way that they trust your
character, convictions, competence, and care
to take them in the right direction.
This definition has clarified much of the leadership task for me, both limiting and expanding it.
It limits the task of leadership because it insists that leadership is happening only when people voluntarily follow you. Coercion wields force. Leadership inspires trust.
It expands the task of leadership because it means that leadership may be happening outside organizational structures. It happens anywhere and anytime someone trusts another person to take them the right direction.
Finally, it highlights the all-important element of trust.
Trust is the sacred bond between leader and follower. If trust is broken, leadership isn’t happening. Granted, the follower might continue to go the direction the leader is going, but for reasons other than the leader’s character and competence.
No wonder the Apostle Paul put “above reproach” at the top of requirements for church leaders. The central task of church leaders is to show to others through words and actions that the message about Jesus is true. But if their own words and actions don’t align with the message about Jesus, can you really trust them?
Yes, leadership is all about trust.