Rethinking Our View of Leadership

   From our earliest memories it seems the guardians of the status quo, those who like things exactly as they exist in the present, work overtime to convince us leading is something reserved for a special few. Their efforts are made all the easier by the fact many of us have bought into the myth that leadership is somehow synonymous with our possessing a particular title, rank, or role. It’s something someone else does until we ourselves earn the appropriate promotion, attain the proper position, or win the next election. So what’s the effect of our possessing such a limited perspective? Well, perhaps not surprisingly, it makes it altogether too convenient for each of us continue to abdicate responsibility for our role in permitting, promoting, and even protecting the existing state of affairs.

   What if I told you this narrow view of leadership is one of the primary reasons we in America continue to find ourselves facing such troubling times? Be it out of either ignorance or convenience, many of us have failed to realize the very concept of leadership was never intended to be interpreted in such confining ways. Begging the question “what was leadership originally meant to be?”

   The word leader originates from the Indo-European root word "leit," which was the name given to the person who carried the flag in front of an army advancing into battle. This person often had no positional authority and possessed no special title or rank. Nonetheless, it was considered an honor and a privilege to carry a nation’s colors into conflict on behalf of one’s country or in support of one’s cause or campaign.

    The willingness of these courageous flag carriers to bear this burden of responsibility, however, posed some very real personal hazards. Most notably, it dramatically increased their chances of being injured or even killed in the process of carrying out their mission. This makes their commitment to going first, despite their knowing the potential cost to self, all the more noteworthy.

   But beyond the nobility of their actions, it’s important to understand there are several very deliberate reasons why the original definition of leadership was intentionally derived from this particular imagery. First, the flag bearer’s selfless example reveals how setting off in new directions demands someone first know the way. Serving as a reminder that one of the primary roles of a leader is to help guide others toward a future they can influence, liberating them from a past they cannot change.

   Second, this image provides a compelling picture of how leading also entails someone possessing the willingness to show others the way. What good is it for someone to cast a vision or propose a plan if they aren’t willing to point people in the direction they should go to achieve it? And finally, while knowing the way and showing the way are noble in their own right, leadership ultimately demands that the one bearing responsibility for carrying the flag be the first to go the way before they can expect others to consider following suit. After all, leading denotes action; action demands movement; and movement is how the process of positive progress we routinely refer to as change gets set into motion. Testimony to how all talk and no walk doesn’t make a leader. It’s our example that persuades those around us to abandon the safety of the status quo in pursuit of new territory.

   So, with this in mind, how might things improve in our homes, workplaces, worship spaces, and communities if at all levels of society we began to view leading less as a noun and more as a verb? Instead of thinking about leadership in terms of a static title, rank, position, or role we possess, what if we chose to see leading as something we do every time we accept responsibility for taking the initiative to promote the positive change we want to see occur in our surroundings? No matter where we currently find ourselves in the proverbial hierarchy, organizational chart, or established social order.

   I can’t help but to think how much better things would be in our surroundings.

Copyright © 2012 - All Rights Reserved
John Michel
experienced leader, humanitarian, visioneer, and renown status quo buster,
is the author of the ground breaking book:
Mediocre Me: How Saying No to the Status Quo will Propel you from Ordinary to Extraordinary
Check out his blog at or drop him a note at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.