By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
One of the biggest challenges we have at the Yeshua Institute is convincing people that everyone is a leader.
“I’m sure your program is a great one, but it’s not for me.”
“Why not?” we ask.
“Because I’m not a leader,” comes the reply.
We hear that all the time – and we always hear it from people who are, in fact, leaders.
We hear it from parents. We hear it from teachers. We hear it from workers on the line. We hear it from retired folks. We hear it from stay-at-home moms. “I’m not a leader.”
Wrong! Wrong, wrong. And wrong again. More wrong.
If you are breathing air and not locked up in solitary isolation in some hermit’s cave, you are leading.
Come to think of it, even if you are in a hermit’s cave you are probably leading. If people know you are living a hermit’s life, you are leading them by your example. Most likely they won’t follow your example and find their own cave. But if they are aware of you, you are having some influence on them.
As it turns out, a whole lot of hermits have had a whole lot of influence on other people – and that means they were leaders too.
What is leading?
So what do we mean by leading? We define “leadership” as anytime you seek to influence the thinking or behavior of others.
Stop and think about that.
As a grandparent, I’ve noticed there’s a new word that little ones start to say almost as soon as they can walk and talk. Yes, of course there’s still the perennial parental competition over whether the baby says “mama” or “dada” first – or virtually any sound that can reasonably (or unreasonably) be associated with one of those two words.
But there’s another word that pops up very early in most infants’ vocabulary today. It’s “mote.”
If you haven’t had little ones in the last decade or so, perhaps you missed this. In recent decades little kids have added a new word to their early vocabularies. They say “mote.” What they’re trying to say is “remote.”
Yup, they want to find the television remote control so that they can influence you and anyone else in the room. They want to introduce you to Mickey Mouse and all his friends. Yes, of course, they’re trying to influence you – and, indeed, the whole room.
They are trying to lead.
“Gosh, it starts pretty early, doesn’t it?” you wonder. Actually, it starts earlier than that.
A pregnant woman decides to get off her aching feet and takes a seat on the couch. All of a sudden, she’s being kicked from the inside out. Her soon to be unborn baby is trying to influence her to move. No, it’s not an intentional act. The baby isn’t comfortable and responds reflexively. It’s as simple as that. But the unborn baby is nevertheless influencing its mother.
That’s leadership, albeit at a very basic level.
But it’s important to realize that even as adults – especially as adults – we can lead without being aware of it.
Some years ago then-NBA starter Charles Barkley got into trouble with the law over something he did. Sportswriters and others came down hard on him, objecting that he was being a poor role model. “I ain’t no role model,” he objected.
But to no avail. People piled on – and with good reason.
Kids were buying Barkley’s shoes, his jersey, his warmups. They were trying to walk like him, talk like him, play and shoot like him. Maybe he didn’t want to be a role model – a leader. Maybe he had never even thought about it before. But it wasn’t his call. He was influencing a vast number of people without even trying, without even wanting to. So he was leading.
I noticed not long ago that my adult son, an accomplished attorney with his own adult children, was wearing his watch on his right wrist. Left-handed people do that, but right-handed people don’t. It makes no sense for them to put their watch on the wrist of their busiest hand. No sense at all.
So I asked him, “Why is your watch on your right hand?” He replied: “Because that’s where you wear it.”
Okay, I’m left-handed. My choice makes sense. But no one explained that to him when he got his first watch. He looked at where I wore mine and put his on the same wrist. About 40 years later he’s still doing it.
He never thought much about it. And I never even noticed it. But it still happened. He followed – which meant I was leading.
Leadership works like that.
Leading beyond the grave
In our Encounters we ask people about the influence their parents still have in their lives – even if the parent has been dead for several decades. We’ve had some people whose parents passed away 50 or more years ago. Many of them lost a parent over 30 years ago.
“Do they still influence you,” we ask.
“Absolutely,” they reply.
“Do you still think of them?” we ask.
“Every day” or “almost every day” are the most frequent replies.
If we are parents, that’s our legacy too. We will, for better or worse, lead beyond the grave. And even if we aren’t parents, there will be other people we influenced who will continue to let us influence them even after we are gone.
I’m 71, and I am still mindful of every boss I ever had. All of them still influence me in some ways – some much more than others, some by example and others by exception. Some I almost never think of. But others I think of often. No matter. Whenever I think of them, they are influencing me.
Same with my friends, my teachers, my neighbors and my extended family. I’ve had a lot of leaders in my life. Some were good, even great. Others not so much. But all of them influenced me. So all of them were, at least to some degree, leaders in my life.
We’re all leaders
The fact is we are all leaders. Leadership isn’t a choice. It’s a mandate. That’s just the way the human community works.
The only choice we have is what kind of leader we’re going to be.
Here at the Yeshua Institute we happen to think that it’s better to be an effective, helpful leader than an ineffective or deficient leader. If you care at all about the people you are leading – influencing, whether you realize it or not – we think you have to agree.
And we happen to think that Jesus was the best leadership role model and teacher of all time.
We certainly hope you agree. And even more, we hope you adopt Jesus as your own primary leadership teacher and role model. He can and he will continue to influence you even two millennia after his death and resurrection.
All you have to do is invite him into your life.
Think about it. We believe it’s a huge opportunity. And we hope you do too.