What does it mean to lead?

Updated: Jan 7

Many years ago while working in a call center I was given a book on the subject of leadership, specifically, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by Jonathan Maxwell. At the time, my focus was keenly aligned with climbing the ranks and advancing my career path. It was a good read and I gleaned some useful insights, for example:


The best place for a leader isn't always the top position. It isn't the most prominent or powerful place. It's the place where he or she can serve the best and add the most value to other people."


According to Maxwell, leadership is about service. It is about what one can add unto another. This, of course, extends beyond board rooms, office parks and legislative chambers. Leadership by example is essential. We have seen all too often from our so-called leaders in business, healthcare, education and government, asking us to do as they say, not as they do.


So what does it mean to lead? In my humble opinion, the quality of leadership is directly correlated with the quality of listening. No, not what's on the radio or TV or streaming from a smart device. Although, this can and will influence how one leads. I am referring to an inner mechanism of listening for guidance for the best course of action, or a simple next step. A man is compelled to act according to a vision for his life. And that vision includes recruiting others who share a vision and will respect his leadership to achieve an outcome.


We lead our lives according to memory or inspiration. When listening for guidance, we have a choice between the familiar past or a new experience. Discerning the difference is a matter of self-awareness and tuning in somatically. One is restrictive, and the other is expansive. Both often come with a degree of discomfort and second-guessing. For example, there's a health issue. One course of action states go see a doctor for medical treatment. This will present as a logical, sensible course of action, however, it may be based in fear. If we were to continue listening through calming practices like meditation, or really just being still in a quiet place for a period of time, we may receive an inspiration to resolve the issue without medical intervention. If we're having trouble financially, there may be an urgency to get a job that pays better, or cut back on spending. An inspiration would lead us upon a different path that solves our financial troubles once and for all.


It is important to note that whatever we choose as a course of action, there's invariably an opportunity to learn and develop our leadership quotient. Quite frankly, we are mostly listening to a loop of pre-programmed limiting belief systems inherited from family members, teachers, authority figures and those with whom we associate. Nobody wants to mess up, and so we are prone to making a choice to avoid pain, seeking advice from others who are also motivated by pain avoidance. And this becomes amplified when we recognize that what we choose impacts everyone else, for better or worse. Sometimes a choice needs to be made on the fly, and the familiar course offers a hedge against the worst-case scenario.


What if we dig a little deeper next time we're faced with an important choice point in our lives? Inspiration is always there, whether we hear it or not. A wise friend once said, "Listen like your life depends on it." As a leader, you likely have a partner, staff, children, community members or an entire nation depending upon your listening. Every choice has a consequence, and every moment offers an opportunity to listen.