Are You Leading?

The simplest definition of the word “leader” is “one who leads”. But what does it mean, then, to “lead”? The word “lead” is derived from an Old English word laedan meaning “cause to go with”.  Based on this early meaning, we can classify two types of leaders.

The first type is one who falsely thinks they are leading but in reality they have no followers, i.e. the leader hasn’t caused anybody to go with them. When I do leadership workshops, I like to say, “If you’re having difficulty getting people to follow you, then you’re not leading.”

The second type of leader is one who is actually leading, i.e. they have caused people to go with them. This type of leader falls into one of myriad categories each defined by their own distinctive style of causing people to go with them. These numerous styles are the subject of countless observations, analyses, writings and teachings about what it takes to be an effective leader. But regardless how sound any of this wisdom may be, it is all but footnotes to what Lao-Tzu wrote nearly 2500 years ago in Chapter 17 of the Tao Te Ching about the various ways and degrees of effectiveness there are in causing people to go with you:

“The best of all leaders is the one who helps people so that, eventually, they don’t need him.

Then comes the one they love and admire.

Then comes the one they fear.

The worst is the one who lets people push him around.

Where there is no trust, people will act in bad faith.[1]

The best leader doesn’t say much, but what he says carries weight.

When he is finished with his work, the people say, “It happened naturally.”

In what ways do you cause people to go with you?


[1] Interesting comment. Lao-Tzu seems to indicate that the more you trust people, the more trustworthy they become.

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