Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

A while back I was introduced to a concept that has changed how I approach many aspects of my life, and I want to share it with you today. The Principle of the Leadership Lid is something you may have already heard or read about it. The principle itself is a part of the larger work of John C Maxwell, an expert in leadership and the author of the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. The principle itself can boiled down to the simple statement that an organization can move no higher than the leadership qualities of it’s leader. This means that no matter how many quality folks you staff your team with, they are “capped” by the abilities of their leader. To put it another way, if you have a team full of 8’s and your leader is a 5, you can only realistically expect to be a 5 as an organization. Through this concept I realized that it wasn’t just about training my people well, and equipping them with the tools to succeed. It was also about training and equipping myself. Leading isn’t just doing the job at hand, it is about getting your team to buy in, inspiring them to think critically, understanding the ebb and flow of morale. No matter how well trained your team may be, you will never get them to reach their full potential unless you push yourself to your full potential, until you set the bar for them.

So how do we become better leaders? How do you go from the 5 in our example to an 8 or a 9? The most important step, as is usually the case, is the first one. Simply be intentional about how you lead. Put it to the forefront of your mind. As you make your decisions, ask the straight forward question, am I being a good leader by making this choice? I am not saying you will always get it right, but your more likely to as long as you are intentional.

The next step is completely contrary to our preconceived notions of leadership: follow. In order to be a strong leader, you have to follow a great leader at some point. The Quarterback is undoubtedly the leader of the football team. ( or at least the offensive unit). The team will usually only go as far as the QB will take them (leadership lid!!!). Breat QB’s aren’t, just hatched that way. They have studied under other great leaders. Be it coaches or offensive coordinators, someone lead them, and they learned the principle of great leadership through that relationship. Would the Manning brothers have been capable of 3 Super Bowls if they had not been taught how to lead by David Cutcliffe? I don’t think so.

I would also encourage all of us who are leaders to be a perpetual student. Go to seminars, read books, have an insatiable appetite for learning. The reason I asked earlier how we get to 8 or 9 instead of 10, is because I don’t believe in 10. 10 means you have hit the pinnacle, that you can go no further. The idea that you are the best you can possibly ever be is frightening to me. There is always another step to take, there is always another lesson to learn. You may be a 9.9 right now, but if you just sit back on that, you will never make it 9.99, and neither will your team.

The beauty of this principle is that it doesn’t just apply to the 40 hour a week, 9-5 role I serve in at my day job, or the time I spend in my church or other organizations. It also applies to the 24-7-365 job of being a father. How can I expect my children to do their best, if they don’t see me doing mine. How can I expect my children to succeed if I do a poor job of leading them? Sure, my wife and I are a team and she is as much a leader to my kids (if not more) than I, but we have to lead as a team. I have to hold up my end of the load as well. This is important, and I fail regularly, but I never give up. I don’t want them to give up, either. I want them to succeed as members of my team, and I want them to be successful leaders all their own, one day.

I will leave you with one final thought. Even if you aren’t in management, don’t have a family, or aren’t a part of an organization, you are still potentially a leader. We never know who is watching us, emulating us, using us as their point of measurement. We may not have a title, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t a leading. We may not be aware of it, but our own lack of growth may be putting a lid on someone else’s potential.

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