Many years ago, I received an offer to shift roles that sounded exciting until I learned the new job meant I no longer had a large team to lead. Popular wisdom says: “If you think you’re leading, but no one is following, then you’re only taking a walk.”
Our organization’s president offered a different perspective. “This role will require you to learn how to lead by influence and what it really means to serve people. You’ll become a more effective leader because most people can only lead by authority,” he said. “Take away their position, though, and often no one will choose to follow them. That’s not leadership; it’s hierarchy.”
I took the role. Fortunately, the president provided ongoing, nearly real-time mentoring; he proved surprisingly generous with his time. Years later, he made a recommendation that landed me in a CEO role at a different organization. “You’re ready,” he said.
Today, he leads one of our country’s largest nonprofit organizations, and his people there love him as their leader for the right reasons. I still do, too.
What a great example of better, enduring wisdom:
“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.”
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David Staal writes, speaks, consults, and has filled a career with executive and leadership positions