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Posted by on Apr 27, 2014 in Business, Featured, Inspirational, Leadership | 5 comments

Carrying the Flag: Discovering the Leader in all of us

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“Where there is right action, there is victory.” - Sanskrit Proverb

From our earliest memories it seems countless people in our lives are keen to convince us leading is reserved for a special few. It’s something someone else does until we ourselves earn the appropriate promotion, attain a particular position, or win the next election. So what’s the effect of our adopting such a limited perspective? Well, perhaps not surprisingly, it makes it altogether too convenient for each of us continue to ignore our own leadership potential. It provides us with a convenient excuse to abdicate responsibility for our role in permitting, promoting, and even protecting the existing state of affairs.

Now pause and consider how things might be different if people everywhere began to believe we all possess the ability to lead. Imagine how things might be different in society if people understood leadership was never meant to be something reserved for a special or select few. Begging the question “what was leadership originally meant to be?”

Imagine how things might be different in society if people understood leadership was never meant to be something reserved for a special or select few.

The word leader originates from the Indo-European root word leit, which was the name given to the person who carried the flag in front of an army advancing into battle. This person often had no positional authority and possessed no special title or rank. Nonetheless, it was considered an honor and a privilege to carry a nation’s colors into conflict on behalf of one’s country or in support of one’s cause or campaign.

The willingness of these courageous flag carriers to bear this burden of responsibility, however, posed some very real personal hazards. Most notably, it dramatically increased their chances of being injured or even killed in the process of carrying out their mission. This makes their commitment to going first, despite their knowing the potential cost to self, all the more noteworthy.

But beyond the nobility of their actions, it’s important to understand there are several very deliberate reasons why the original definition of leadership was intentionally derived from this particular imagery. First, the flag bearer’s selfless example reveals how setting off in new directions demands someone first know the way–a timeless reminder that one of the primary roles of a leader is to help guide others toward a future they can influence; liberating them from a past they cannot change.

Second, this image provides a compelling picture of how leading also entails someone possessing the willingness to show others the way. What good is it for someone to cast a vision or propose a plan if they aren’t willing to point people in the direction they should go to achieve it? So while vision, a forward looking view of a preferred future, is what opens others’ hearts and minds to accept the endless possibilities ahead; it takes leadership to get others to join you in transforming these future dreams into present existence.

Setting off in new directions demands someone first know the way–a timeless reminder that one of the primary roles of a leader is to help guide others toward a future they can influence; liberating them from a past they cannot change.

Finally, while knowing the way and showing the way are noble in their own right, leadership ultimately demands that the one bearing responsibility for carrying the flag be the first to go the way before they can expect others to consider following suit. After all, leading denotes action; action demands movement; and movement is how the process of positive progress we routinely refer to as change gets set into motion. Testimony to how all talk and no walk doesn’t make a leader. It’s our example that persuades those around us to abandon the safety of the status quo in pursuit of new territory.

Ask yourself how things might improve in our homes, workplaces, worship spaces, and communities if at all levels of society we began to view leadership less as a noun and more as a verb? Instead of thinking about leadership in terms of a static title, rank, position, or role we possess, what if we chose to see leading as something we do every time we choose to walk differently in the world believing:

We don’t have to be rich, famous or powerful to make a positive difference in our surroundings;

We all possess our own form of unique genius we refer to as influence we can use to address the problems around us; and,

We are all capable of making some contribution, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, in order to get things moving in a different, more empowering direction.

Leading denotes action; action demands movement; and movement is how the process of positive progress we routinely refer to as change gets set into motion.

With such a view in mind, ask yourself how willing you are to carry the leadership flag. Are you making the most of every opportunity to communicate to others you know the way, are unafraid to show others the way, and most importantly, go the way yourself? Regardless of your answer, what is important is what you choose to do from this moment forward–no matter where you currently find yourself in the proverbial hierarchy, organizational chart, or established social order.

 

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Image credit: patrimonio / 123RF Stock Photo

 

John E. Michel

John is a widely recognized expert in culture, strategy & individual and organizational change. The senior-curator for GeneralLeadership.com, he is an accomplished unconventional leader and proven status quo buster who has successfully led several multi-billion dollar transformation efforts. His award-winning work has been featured in a wide variety of articles and journals, including the Harvard Business Review. In addition to serving our nation as an active duty General Officer in the United States Air Force, John enjoys helping people learn to walk differently in the world so they can become the best version of themselves possible. He is blessed to be married to the most patient person on the planet and together, they have two amazing sons. You are encouraged to learn more about John at his website, www.MediocreMe.com

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  • Todd Dewett

    Well said! Keep it up John :)

  • http://www.MediocreMe.com/ John Michel

    Thanks Todd! Hope you have a great week.
    Best,
    John

  • Karin Karis

    It will be the hard way but it will take you to unexpected (beautiful) places. Things would change if more people would take their responsibility

  • Rita Poynor

    Exactly! Leadership has little to do with position and power. Unfortunately, in our culture we have defined leadership as such. Leaders not only see the “big picture”. They also see those society have identified as the “little people” as vital to making that “big picture” a reality.

  • John Wick, Cand. EdD

    What an excellent post!

    A few of us in education have recently been posting our dedication to our profession letters on our blogs in response to the press on teacher resignation letters.

    Leadership came up as a central theme in these posts and letters. Your post fits well with what we were talking about and I couldn’t agree more with your statements.

    I’ve shared your post with them and hope they get as much out of it as I have.