There I stood, having my leadership abilities ‘challenged’ once again. In front of me was someone more equipped to be in my leadership position than I was. But I had clawed my way to the top of this organization, and no one was taking my place. I was the leader, and I was willing to do whatever it took to stay there! The person standing in front of me was older than me and clearly knew more about leadership (and life) than I did. I remember feeling uneasy as this ‘opponent’ became popular among the group of 50+ volunteers. (I already didn’t like this guy!)
Who I just described to you was me in my late teens.
This was my understanding of what it meant to be a leader. I became obsessed with keeping my position. In this obsession, I missed the point entirely. I didn’t know or understand what it meant to lead people. My understanding of (or lack thereof) leadership reminds me of Clu from Tron Legacy. The idea of creating the perfect system poisoned his mind which ultimately led to his corruption.
You see, I wanted to lead the perfect team. I wanted recognition for what I had achieved. I wanted everything to be done my way. Do you see the trend/problem that I had? That’s right, I made leadership all about me – and that’s not leadership at all. Much like a team, there’s no I in the word leader. But I didn’t understand that. As years passed, I became more and more miserable and more of a tyrant than a leader.
Much like a team, there's no I in the word leader.
Then, one day, I reached my breaking point.
My boss within this organization was extremely talented. Because of his talent, many people were drawn to the organization. Naturally, he attracted what he was; so more great leaders joined the team. I was quickly surrounded by people who were more equipped to lead than I could have ever imagined. I cracked when I realized that I had been ‘defeated.’ I repeatedly asked myself the question, “What do I need to do to become a great leader?” Then, I (finally) had a breakthrough. I finally found an answer to my question!
What does it mean to be a great leader?
Becoming a great leader means to influence others to accomplish an objective or goal while at the same time strengthening an organization or furthering completion of a purpose. A great leader is one who puts others above himself and aims to help them achieve their goals. The most accurate statement describing what it means to be a leader is a quote from John C. Maxwell.
A leader is one who knows the way goes the way and shows the way. – John C. Maxwell
A leader is someone who has a clear vision, (knows the way) follows that vision, (goes the way) and helps others to find their path (Shows the way). A problem that I notice in many leaders is that they often skip knowing the way and following the way and go straight to showing others the way. People will always buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. That is why most leaders fail.
What does the quote “A leader is one who knows the way goes the way and shows the way” mean?
The meaning behind this famous John C. Maxwell quote is broken into three parts.
- Knowing the way means having a clear vision and purpose.
- Going the way means going beyond just understanding your vision and purpose, you’re actually living it out and achieving.
- Showing the way means you’re helping others achieve the same in their own lives.
Let’s break into each of these three parts to gain a better understanding of their meaning.
A Leader Knows the Way
You cannot take others on a journey with an unknown destination. Know where you are going, and how you are going to get there. As the leader, you must have complete clarity while at the same time not getting stuck waiting for the stars to align. There will never be a time when the path is perfect. That’s okay.
Adjustments and corrections are not a problem as long as the way remains known to those you’re leading. This happens through clear communication and gaining buy in on your calculated course correction. (Side note: All great leaders are great communicators. If you don’t communicate well, you don’t lead well.)
A Leader Goes the Way
In all of my years of leading people, teams, businesses and my own personal life, I’ve discovered that “going the way” is the most abused step in leadership. There are a lot of guru’s out there these days. They want to lead us all so badly, but they aren’t taking the steps themselves. Or another type of person that I refer to as managers are the people who ask people to do things, so they don’t have to.
Many years ago, I developed this principle in my leadership, “Never ask anyone to do something you won’t do yourself. If you’re questioning whether you’d do it, go do it first, then you’re free to ask someone else to do the same.” I live by this. If I ask you to do something – Rest assured that I’ve already done it myself.
“Never ask anyone to do something you won’t do yourself. If you’re questioning whether you’d do it, go do it first, then you’re free to ask someone else to do the same.”
A Leader Shows the Way
Imagine a group of people that live in complete darkness. There is only one path that will take you to where there is light. In this world of complete darkness, no one has a flashlight. Over the years you discovered the way out of the darkness and into the light. The moment you enter the light, you see a flashlight right in front of you. A great leader grabs the flashlight, heads back to the people and begins guiding them along the path toward the light.
You are the only one with a flashlight, so everyone is following you closely. As the leader, you call the shots. What do you do? A true leader doesn’t start running full speed ahead and telling people to keep up. Nope! A true leader stands as close as possible to the group of people, shining the light directly in front of them so they can see the steps they are taking.
The best leaders who have ever lived have put others above themselves. Instead of sprinting through the darkness of life to get to the light, they slow down to bring people with them. They help others to learn and understand what they’ve accomplished in life.
I’m very thankful for John C. Maxwell’s quote above because it’s helped me grasp this principle. (That’s right, I’m not a tyrant teenager anymore!) My entire goal in leadership is to help others succeed and to achieve more than I ever will in my life. This is my purpose and calling as a leader.
Read more DailyPS posts on the topic of leadership.
Here’s the deal, in the world we live in today, people want to redefine what it means to be a leader. (Think back to my guru comment above.) I’m regularly confronted by people demanding an explanation for why I’m so focused on helping others and not spending more time carving out my own financial success. People will ask me, “Alex, why aren’t you monetizing that?” or “Why don’t you charge that guy for that? You could make a lot of money!”
Here’s my answer: I’m someone who has learned my path, and I’m walking on it, and along the way of my journey, I’m pointing out the direction to others. Not everything is about money, fame, or status. A true leader is one who doesn’t put those things above helping others get the most out of their lives. A leader is one who knows the way goes the way and shows the way.