Last weekend was a busy and emotional one on many levels. We continued to hear of lost lives in China from the spread of a deadly virus. A basketball hero with an imperfect past perished with his 13 year old daughter and 7 other people in a helicopter crash. And regardless of our personal politics, watching the President of our United States face impeachment can stir fear in even the hardest of hearts.
On Sunday morning, I was sitting on the front pew with my mother, father, husband, and our three children when our Pastor gave one his most moving sermons to date. Stick with me, even if you don’t do religion for a moment.
In a way, the message was less about religion and more about being human than anything else (by the way, if you are listening to the right religious leaders that should always be the case because we are all just humans trying to be the best people we can be and not one of us is perfect, including – and maybe most of all – our religious leaders).
What moved me so deeply was the connection the message made to our lives as leaders – leaders of communities, families, teams, companies, and organizations. The essence of the message was this: Admirers honor, respect, and sometimes even envy great leaders – they want to be like them, but they aren’t willing to do the hard work to become more like them.
On the other hand, Followers are willing to give up everything and work harder than imagined in their quest to become better humans and more like the Leaders they follow. Before you get worried that I am teetering on the grounds of praising narcissistic leadership aiming to create mini-me automatons, let me expand the concept a bit.
According to the dictionary, an Admirer is someone who respects and approves of someone or their behavior, while a Follower is someone who supports, admires, or believes in a particular person, group, or idea.
If we integrate these definitions into the idea of Authentic and Courageous Leadership, we might say that many aspiring leaders admire the leadership of someone like Malala Yousafzai. But how many of us would rise up from a hospital bed after being shot in the face by the Taliban at the age of just 15, and continue advocating for what we believe in and make our voice even louder?
Or…are we more likley to stand in awe – to admire her courage, but not follow her example in our own lives? If we are going to be courageous and authentic leaders, we are going to have to make tough choices. We are going to have to become Followers rather than Admirers.
It is good, maybe even great, to admire inspiring leaders. We all need role models and images of greatness we can aspire to. But I think the world has enough Admirers these days…
Think about all the posts you see flooding social media – many of them are saying things like, “Look at her! Look at him! Look how Mother Theresa helped the poor and hopeless…Look how Ghandi fought for civil rights without using violence or hate! How amazing they are!”
Not many of them are saying, “Look at Malala’s courage. Look at her willingness to fight hate and injustice even when she herself became the target of that hate. I will follow her lead and speak up against unjustice even when it puts me or my job or my life at risk.”
I’m not saying that we have to put our lives or our jobs at risk just to prove we are bold and courageous leaders. I am saying that we might ask ourselves, am I playing it safe? Am I saying just enough to be inspiring, but still likeable? Am I holding back or staying quiet when I know I should speak up?
The world needs Courageous, Authentic Leaders now more than ever. Are you playing it safe? Are you staying out of it because it doesn’t affect you personally? Are you admiring the leaders who are willing to take bold risks…
Or are you stepping into the light, following their lead, and taking bold risks yourself to become the Leader you were Born to Be?