Lose the leader

By Craig Bailey
Director of Leadership,
Uniting College for Leadership & Theology

Posted in Leadership

Maybe you don't need to. Possibly someone in your life cut through the superman-iac, ego-driven, self-serving model of leading and left a really positive imprint on your mind.

But for many of us, the shadow of the overbearing coach, strict teacher or other domineering humanoid was almost all we ever knew about leaders. I have the odd student whose heart palpitates at the mention of the word "leader" and quiet mutterings about Hitler, Thatcher, Mugabe, and so on can sometimes be heard. The truth is that even softer images of this narrow band of leader type need to be lost. There are better ways and models to follow.

A good start is to replace leader with leadership. It immediately gets the spotlight off the hero myth and shares the glory. And the glory is not in super solo feats of bravery or stunning oratory or amazing Mr/Ms Fix-it solutions. These exist on rare occasions, and even then are surrounded by a cloud of willing participants who are quickly forgotten. Think about this: Sir Edmund Hillary had Tenzing. Batman has Robin. Luther King had a lesser known teacher named Rosa Parkes. But maybe the real leader led from behind. Furthermore, maybe there was more to it than meets the eye, and there was a team of women and men who never get named, and in the end make the so-called hero look better than they really were.

No, the glory is in leadership. Not in the leader. Not in the great individual. The glory is in the great team, that bunch of often ordinary women and men who have the grace and humility to let go of personal agenda, to rejoice in each other's successes, to deal with the messy and sometimes hard yakka of learning how to work together, always keeping their eyes on a prize that's bigger than what they are.

A couple of thousand years ago, the architect of much of the formation of the early Christian community got this idea and said: "The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others" (1Corinthians 12:7 CEV). There, in few words, you have it. The Spirit has given each of us. Not the special people, but each of us, all of us. No super-humans here. The words also identify a common purpose that's bigger than all of us put together – the opportunity of serving others. Not making one person look really amazing. The NIV translation of this passage calls it the common good.

Apart from anything else, leading with others feels better. It can get lonely at the top, whatever or wherever "the top" is. So, why not lose the leader and embrace leadership? It's heaps more fun.

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