Texans call it “all hat, and no cattle.”
It’s colorful; it’s descriptive, and it’s going on, constantly. You know it when you see it: someone claims to be something their performance does not confirm. Their rhetoric isn’t matched by their results; their claims fall short of their conduct; they pretend… but, they don’t produce.
Look around. How many people do you know who are introduced as “leaders” but have no one following them?
Is leadership a title? Is it conferred by having your name in a box in an organizational chart positioned above others? Is leadership locked to pay-grades? Can you assume that people who make more, lead more, and those who are lower on the tax ladder have no impact on those around them?
There are two measures of leadership. Classic power systems are built around command-and-control models. Hierarchies are top-down horsepower; they have the power to dictate to their downline.
There has always been a less visible – but often more viable – model of leadership: I call it influence. “The capacity to have an effect on the character, development or behavior of someone” is the way one dictionary describes influence. If that isn’t leadership, my thesaurus has a virus…
When you know what you’re looking for, leadership is easier to spot. When you see someone who has an effect on other people, you’ve found a leader; measure the effect, and you then know whether they’re leading people toward their betterment or their demise.
Let’s test that premise. Here’s a moment in history, with scores of people in the mix. Can you spot the leaders in the scene?
Executive Summary: Jesus and his 12 Disciples are traveling; they stop at a well just outside Sychar – a town in Samaria, where they are likely not welcome (Samaritans had no dealings with Jews; it’s a long story). The 12 – all of them – went into town to get lunch, leaving Jesus at the well, alone and thirsty. A woman comes to draw water, and Jesus asks her for a drink. She’s shocked: he’s violating social protocols (Jews didn’t interact with Samaritans, nor men with women). He turns the conversation to spiritual thirst, and his ability to slake that longing with eternal efficacy. He discloses his knowledge of the woman’s tawdry past – five failed marriages; now living with a guy – but extends grace. She mentions the longing for Messiah that merged the Jews’ and the Samaritans’ religious beliefs; Jesus tells her that he is the Christ.
Just then, the 12 leaders-in-training return from town – with take-out – and try to pull Jesus away from the woman to get it while it’s hot. He responds: they’re famished for food; he’s interested in impact. Just then, the woman leaves her water pot and heads back into town. She puts herself in the middle of the marketplace and makes a bold announcement: out by the well, she has found the Messiah!
She’s the Pied Piper: the men of the city follow her out to the watering hole, and there she introduces them to Jesus. They listen, persuade Jesus to stay, and he spends two days addressing this town full of thirsty people with truth that hydrates them. Their summation, to the woman who previously wore the Scarlet Letter: “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42).
So, where are the Leaders? There are two: Jesus, and the woman. He influenced her character and behavior; she influenced the character and behavior of the people in her city. The 12 went to town and brought back sandwiches; the woman went to town and brought back the town.
Had you been in the story, where would you have been? Buried in the details? or, Getting in front of a movement? Where is your leadership influence being leveraged, today?