One day I settled into my airplane seat on a trip to address a group of leaders on the topic of ethics and morality in leadership, and picked up a copy of American Way magazine in the seat pocket. An article caught my eye: “Lie, Cheat and Steal Your Way to the Top.”
The article explored the culture of cheating that is corrupting all levels of Western society-including those in the highest offices of leadership. It discussed the “trickle-down corruption effect” taking place at all levels. One paragraph, in particular, revealed the exponential increase in this behavior-and the financial consequences:
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that employee theft now costs companies $50 billion annually. Security firm The Wackenhut Corporation says employee theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. And the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners says the total cost of occupational fraud-mainly accounting schemes-was $600 billion in 2002. The amount is twice what it was in 1997.”
The article goes on to report that 10 of Wall Street's top investment banks agreed to pay $1.4 billion in 2003 to settle state and federal claims that they misled investors to benefit their banking clients. The clincher? Not a single person faced a criminal charge in that deal, and not one firm admitted any wrongdoing.
Moral defects, distrust, abuse of power and privilege, misuse of resources, corruption and hypocrisy have become more associated with leadership today than at any other time in history. Why is true leadership so difficult to find? All the money in the world can make you rich, and all the power can make you strong, but these can never make you a leader. You can inherit a fortune but never leadership.
Yet, there is no greater need in our 21st-century world today than effective, competent leadership. The No. 1 need in the world today is not money, social programs or even new governments. It is quality, morally disciplined, principle-centered leadership. The 21st century's greatest challenge is its leadership vacuum. And the search is becoming more difficult.
The complex, uncertain, uncharted waters of the 21st century have plunged us into a world of globalization, terrorism, economic uncertainty, famine, disease epidemics, social transformation, corporate compromises, moral and ethical experimentation, religious conflicts and cultural clashes. These conditions demand the highest quality of leadership that our generation can produce.
Leadership has become a role one plays rather than a life one pursues, as leaders attempt to divorce their personal lives from their public responsibilities and personal standards from their public lives. This is a contradiction of true leadership. To many, leadership is an act not a calling. So when in office they act a certain way, but when they leave they lead double lives. Leadership is not a technique, a style or the acquisition of skills, but a manifestation of a spirit.
Consider that many institutions-from Fortune 500 companies to nonprofit entities-spend billions of dollars every year training would-be leaders in management techniques, human-manipulation skills, organizational systems, methods of control and persuasion, and much more in the hopes of producing potential or better leaders. Yet not one seminar anywhere has ever produced a single leader. In fact, the quality and standards of leaders are decreasing.
Why? True leadership is not a result of memorizing formulas, learning skills, imitating methods or training in techniques. True leadership is an attitude of the heart.
Simply put, I discovered that the thinking of a leader is what separated him or her from the followers. True leaders are distinguished by a unique mental attitude that emanates from an internalized discovery of self that creates a strong, positive, confident self-concept and self-worth. I call this the spirit of leadership.
It's an attitude that affects the entire life of the leader and controls his or her response to life, danger, crisis, disappointments, failure, challenges and stress. And it's an attitude that inspires others to have hope in the face of great odds, and makes the leader cultivate a spirit of purpose, daring, passion and conviction.
So, how does one experience his or her personal revelation and identify these specific qualities of this spirit? Until a person's spirit is changed, that person is unchanged. Leadership is not an exclusive club for the elite few who were “born with it.” On the contrary, every human has the instinct and capacity for leadership, but most do not have the courage or will to cultivate that instinct. In other words, God created humans to lead, but we lost the spirit of leadership.
There are many who confuse the position of leadership with the disposition of true leadership. No matter what position one may be given, location in an organization does not create leadership, but one's internal disposition that relates to a sense of purpose does.
Others have confused leadership with the ability to control others through manipulation of their emotions, and playing on their fears and needs. But true leadership is a product of inspiration, not manipulation.
Then there are those who believe titles make a leader. However, we have all experienced how many placed in prominent positions with impressive titles failed miserably, not understanding that true leadership is manifested in the performance and results and not just in labels.
I am convinced that each of us was created to be a leading success, to lead in an area of gifting. We were never created to be oppressed, subjugated, subordinate or depressed, but to fulfill a specific purpose and assignment in life. Our assignments determine our areas of leadership.
So, what is leadership? Leadership is the capacity to influence others through inspiration, motivated by a passion, generated by a vision, produced by a conviction that is ignited by a purpose.
A study of this definition will reveal that leadership is not a pursuit but a result. The word leader is not a label you give yourself. It is what the people whom you inspire call you, because they are stirred to participate in the positive vision that you are presenting them-whether it is the vision for a country, a company or a cause. Leadership is a privilege given by followers.
Jesus-the ultimate model of effective leadership--inspired His chosen followers so much that they left their businesses and, for a time, their families in order to follow Him. He never forced them to come or threatened them, but He inspired them and then invited them to join Him.
Further study of this definition also emphasizes the priority of inspiration in the development of a leader and his leadership. In fact, true leadership is influence through inspiration. So, the principle pursuit for those who desire and aspire to become effective leaders is “How do I inspire, and what is the source of inspiration.” The best way to approach and appreciate the practical application of our definition is to begin the process from the end of the definition.
You will note that the process begins with the discovery of a personal purpose that when captured, ignites a conviction. This conviction generates a vision in the heart that stirs a passion. This force of the passionate pursuit of the vision with conviction inspires others who are stirred to join in and cooperate with the vision. This is called influence and is the key that results in the followers creating what they call their leader.
If inspiration is the key to legitimate influence, and thus the source of true leadership, then inspiration is the pursuit of all true leadership. So how do leaders inspire others? What is the source of inspiration? These are the most important questions of leadership, and if one can find the answer, then the discovery of their leadership potential begins.
Leaders must possess a combination of attitudes that produce a character of influence. These attitudes include the following:
The most important ingredient in leadership development is attitude. Your mind-set determines your response to life and circumstances and regulates how you respond to people. Attitude is more powerful than money, fame or position. Attitude can open doors of opportunity or shut passages to progress.
Just like the many examples of effective leadership characters discussed earlier, when you rediscover the truth about yourself you too will ignite the following marks of the true spirit of leadership:
These are the unique attitudes that all true leaders possess, and the truth is: you too can cultivate and develop them. All of these attributes can be learned, developed, cultivated and refined through practice and responsibility.
To become the leader you were born to be, you must discover who you are, your purpose in life and understand the Creator's design for your existence. To become a true leader you can learn from others, but you must never become them. You must be true to yourself.
The ingredients of leadership cannot be taught, they must be discovered, and learned through experience and development. This capacity to learn resides within each of us, and we decide if we become that leader the Creator intended for us. So, the point is not to strive to become a leader as much as it is a need to discover and become yourself.
True leadership is the discovery of one's purpose and assignment for life, and the inherent gifts and abilities that come with that assignment, and the commitment to serve that gift to the world to improve the lives of many. Simply put, true leadership is serving oneself to the world. Therefore, true leadership is not measured by how many people serve you but by how many people you serve.
The true spirit of leadership was defined more than 2,000 years ago by the most influential and effective leader of all time, a young master teacher, who, when asked how to become a great leader, responded: “'Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave-just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many'” (Matt. 20:26-28, NKJV).