This is Digest: A focused update on an undefined topic of my choosing. Published almost every
After our lunch at the top of the Sierra Madre del Sur just outside Petatlán, Mexico, our ATVs pulled over on the side of the road about one-third of the way down the mountain. We got off and walked through the front yard of a family’s home. We were about to take a hike through the jungle to a waterfall somewhere in the middle of the mountain.
Johnny—our hotel bartender turned tour guide—sped to the front of the group, motioned a quick ¡hola! to the family who was sitting casually in the front yard, led us around the side of the house past an extremely proud rooster, and straight through to the back yard into an expansive field full of cattle.
While I toyed with Amanda’s camera trying to get formal portraits of the cows, I stepped in a cow pie or two (spoiler, if you’re not familiar with country lingo: cow pies aren’t like “apple pie,” you may not want to Google that), and tried to keep my eye on the bull laying near the edge of the creek that ran through the field. Thankfully, I wasn’t wearing red. Wouldn’t want to tempt Ferdinand.
“Left foot first, then right when you go around these rocks,” Johnny yelled out.
“You can take off your sandals and walk directly through the creek, or jump from that rock to that rock to that rock,” he said, perched on the side of the hill pointing at the rocks he was referencing.
“Walk on the thin dirt path through the field—it’s harder to see sometimes, but the big path leads nowhere.”
That last line sounds philosophical and I guess you can take it that way if you want to. But he meant it literally: the literal big path literally lead nowhere.
What caught my attention about how Johnny led is that he didn’t always stay in front of our fifteen-person crew: if anybody mentioned having trouble or he noticed they were hiking incorrectly, he immediately went to them to offer help or a suggestion.
He would always direct the group with his voice, but sometimes that voice came from the front, sometimes from the middle, other times from the very back.
Sometimes he was talking to benefit one person, other times he was talking to all of us.
But he was the leader, no matter where he was in line.
Not because he proved anything before we started hiking.
Not because of some title he held.
He was the leader
Leadership is hard to define because everybody leads differently, and everyone is led differently.
Leadership is also hard to accept because most of us are, rightly, skeptical of authority; we’ve all seen what happens when you trust somebody without questioning their motives or the integrity of their information, and it’s not always good.
But leadership is necessary and unavoidable, whether you’re part of a nation, a business, a hike, a family, or simply trying to better yourself.
It’s necessary and unavoidable because, as people, collectively and individually, we’re not stagnant. We’re always growing, for better or worse.
We grow when we rally behind a vision of the future, and that vision compels us to act. Yes, that vision is an aggregate and contains thoughts that come from all of us, but is typically channeled through somebody: that person is the leader.
I believe we’re all leading something, we’re all leading someone, and we’re all going somewhere, whether we know it or not.
I believe leadership doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
Here are a few articles and quotes about how “leadership” doesn’t always have much to do with your position or power, and about what good and effective leadership looks like.
‘How Successful People Lead‘, by John Maxwell
I read this book in less than two weeks. Like most traditional writing on leadership, it’s cheesy. Full of acronyms, the book walks us through the “Five Levels of Leadership,” and contains a copious amount of gross oversimplifications about what leading people actually looks like. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fantastic, and that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t read it again. Life is complicated: sometimes a gross oversimplification of a complicated topic highlighting what things should be is exactly what I need to read.
Leadership is a process, not a position. There was a time when people used the terms leadership and management interchangeably. I think most people now recognize that there is a significant difference between the two. Management is at its best when things stay the same. Leadership deals with people and their dynamics, which are continually changing. The challenge of leadership is to create change and facilitate growth. Those conditions require movement.
If you have to tell people that you’re the leader, you’re not. If you continue to rely on your position to move people, you may never develop influence with them, and your success will always be limited.
Leadership isn’t a right. It’s a privilege. It must be continually earned. If you possess any sense of entitlement, that will work against you. If you’ve thought in terms of position, change your focus. Instead, think about your leadership potential. What kind of leader do you have the potential to become? What kind of positive effect can you have on the people you lead? What kind of impact can you make on the world?
‘Startup Lessons to Myself, 13 Years Later‘, by Curt Hanke for Inc.
I especially like the part about managing. As Maxwell pointed out, leadership and management are very different things. But that doesn’t mean good leaders are unable to manage. Find that balance.
Literally embedded within the concept of a startup is a single word. A word that stirs hearts, inspires dreams, and changes lives. This word? “Start.” Tasty, no?
To start is to begin anew, in a land where possibility lives large. To leap into action. To set out on a journey of the unknown.
Now try this word on for size: “Manage.” (Muh.) Sounds a tad less sexy, no? But it doesn’t have to, and frankly, shouldn’t be if you started and own the business.
Yes, when you own a business, you own everything–the good and the bad, the upside and the debt. And without a doubt, the depth and constancy of that responsibility carries a considerable weight (read: “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” and all that).
But when you own the business, you also own the ability to not just control your own destiny, but to reinvent your business whenever and however you see fit. In other words, just because you’re no longer a startup doesn’t mean you can’t keep thinking like one.
‘Good to Great‘, by Jim Collins
Yes: Another douche-y business book. But this one’s required reading, if you ask me.
The good-to-great leaders understood three simple truths. First, if you begin with “who,” rather than “what,” you can more easily adapt to a changing world. If people join the bus primarily because of where it is going, what happens if you get ten miles down the road and you need to change direction? You’ve got a problem. But if people are on the bus because of who else is on the bus, then it’s much easier to change direction: “Hey, I got on this bus because of who else is on it; if we need to change direction to be more successful, fine with me.” Second, if you
“have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great. Third, if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.