What Makes a Leader Great?

Have you ever worked for someone you believed in so much that you would walk through walls for? Maybe you’ve had a leader, teacher, pastor, maybe its your spouse or a parent - someone who influenced your by the way they lived and the way they led others. The greatest leaders find a way to balance relationships and results. In every leadership role, there is a tension when it comes to how we get things done. If you want some practical tips to becoming more effective as a leader - keep reading...

Being in power is like being a lady.
If you have to remind people that you are, you aren’t.
— Margaret Thatcher
 
 

When I came across this quote, it reminded me immediately of the first boss I ever had She would come back to the warehouse every few weeks and chew us out for something, usually stating, “I am the boss!’ or ‘You will do as I say or I’ll find someone with half a brain that will!’ or my favorite, ‘You are an embarrassment to your family, your generation, and especially to me!’ (OK, the last one I totally made up...but you get the point.) Most of the crew barely did enough to get by, mostly in spite of her. There was zero motivation to do our best, make improvements, or give two cents about our customers.

It is easy to get to that point. The stress that leaders are under to deliver can be stressful, to say the least. Whether you are manufacturing pet food, poultry, feed ingredients, leading a team or department, or even leading a family - there are pressures that can be overwhelming at times. I have people in my office or who pull me aside walking through the plant often, just trying to deal with the stress involved in our line of work and in our relationships at home.

I recently had a conversation with one of our leaders and she offered a book to me called, The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership by James Hunter. There were many takeaways for me, but his thoughts on the difference between power and authority have been at the front of my mind ever since.

Here is how Hunter defines power and authority in The Servant, and speaks to the balance of results (getting things done) and relationships (influencing those looking to us for leadership):


Power

Definition:

The ability to force or coerce someone to do your will, even if they would choose not to, because of your position or your might.

Key Thoughts:

  • Power can be bought and sold, given and taken away.

  • People can be put into positions of power because they are somebody’s brother-in-law, somebody’s buddy, or because they inherited money or power.

  • Power erodes relationships. You can get a few seasons out of power, even accomplish some things, but over time power can be very damaging to relationships.

  • There are times when we must exercise power. When power must be exercised, the leader should reflect on why resorting to power was necessary...Oftentimes we have to resort to our power because our authority has broken down. Or worse, perhaps we didn’t have any authority to begin with.

Authority

Definition:

The skill of getting people to willingly do your will because of your personal influence and character.

Key Thoughts:

  • Authority cannot be bought or sold, given or taken away.

  • Authority is about who you are as a person, your character, and the influence you’ve build with people.

  • A leader with authority is someone who identifies and meets legitimate needs of their people, removes all the barriers, so they can serve the customer. To lead with authority, you must be willing to serve.

  • Power people are generally threatened by authority people.


Seeing Power and Authority side-by-side brings quite a bit of clarity to me, and hopefully to you as well. If you’ve allowed yourself to be honest, you may have relationships where you are having to rely on power because there is very little trust. It could be something that was done/said in the past or maybe even recently, or it may be something done long before they ever came on the scene that drives your the way you choose to lead.

The people I have been around who have little to no authority with people are often people who tend to lead out of emotion. They wouldn’t see themselves as “emotional”, but they very much are (anger, frustration, aversion - just to name a few). One of the first steps that is required for someone wanting to become a leader that leads with authority rather than power, is a deeper level of humility that allows us to be aware of what is behind the things I do and say. Hunter writes, “Humility is nothing more than a true knowing of yourself and your limitations. Those who see themselves as they truly are would surely be humble indeed. Humility is about being real and authentic with people and discarding the false masks.”

Power-people are some of the most insecure people I have ever met. They wear masks of confidence, courage and tenacity, but inside there is fear, anxiety and confusion. They cannot see beyond themselves, and that self-captivation makes it impossible to lead others effectively.

Leadership begins with the will, which is our unique ability as human beings to align our intentions with our actions and choose our behavior. With the proper will, we can chose to love, the verb, which is about identifying and meeting the legitimate needs, not wants, of those we lead. When we meet the needs of others, we will, by definition, be called upon to serve and even sacrifice. When we serve and sacrifice for others, we build authority or influence...and when we build authority with people, we have earned the right to be called leader.
— James Hunter, The Servant

You may be reading this and you are currently in a position of leadership at work. Or maybe you are someone who aspires to lead others at some point, but that isn't your current reality. And maybe your mind has taken you to your home life, and you realize that the way that you are leading your spouse or your kids has opportunities to mature.

Here are some practical areas to focus on to begin to become someone who people would follow. Again, not because of the power you wield over them, but because of who you are - because of your character.

  • Humility: Being authentic and without pretense or arrogance

  • Kindness: Giving attention, appreciation, encouragement & common courtesy

  • Respectfulness: Treating others as important people

  • Selflessness: Meeting the legitimate needs of others

  • Patience: Show self control

  • Forgiveness: Giving up resentment when wronged

  • Honesty: Being free from deceptive behavior

  • Commitment: Sticking to your choices

  • Service and Sacrifice: Setting aside your own wants and needs; seeking the greatest good for others.

I want to encourage you this week, to pick one area to focus on. There a few ways to discern the area of need. You could put yourself in the shoes of those you lead - what would they probably say? I would also encourage you to pray about it. Ask, “God, if you had your way, what is an area that I could work on that would help me take a step closer to the man/woman you created me to become?”

The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
— Jesus Christ, Matthew 23:11-12 (NLT)