“Leadership is a Journey. Each one of us has to take our own path, and get there our own way.” – David Gergen
If you take the time to look around, you will quickly realize that leadership isn’t for everyone. Not only are good leaders a rare breed, but people who are interested in leadership and perfecting their leadership ability are even rarer still. This brings up the following questions:
What makes an individual pursue leadership? I mean, deep down, what causes someone to become interested in leadership development and his own personal growth? Why would someone pursue this path of most resistance unless he is required to do so? Leadership is hard, and humans as a rule, prefer the path of least resistance.
After having undergone much leadership training for myself in the last few years, I came to ask myself the questions, ‘Why did I begin this trek towards becoming a better leader?’, and ‘Why do others do it?’
Well, I can honestly say that after much pondering and observation, I have found two main reasons, or paths, that may lead someone to pursue leadership development for themselves (aside from it being a requirement for their position). Leaders fall into the following two categories:
1- Those Who Develop a Taste For It
Someone once said that to “develop a taste for” something means to begin to like how it tastes, after eating or drinking it several times. You especially use this phrase to talk about food or drinks that most people don’t like at first. Leadership is a bit like that for some, initially anyway. When we first encounter it, we are not sure we like it. Some do, some don’t. Sometimes, because of our backgrounds and faulty thinking, there may be a stigma associated with our perception of leadership; misconceptions such as:
- Bosses are bad slave drivers
- Rich and successful people (leaders and entrepreneurs) got to the top by being dishonest backstabbers
- Those at the top got a lucky break, but don’t really deserve to be there
- Brown-nosers (for lack of a better word) climb up the ladder of success but are mostly incompetent
Of course, these are most often dire misconceptions. Many people at the top are not bad. Most CEO’s and leaders actually worked quite hard to get to where they are, and most of them are decent people – some are even great people. Sure, there are quite a few incompetent leaders, but it makes us appreciate the good ones. So, usually, after a few years of maturing we abandon these silly and/or limiting beliefs, especially once we meet and connect with good leadership examples.
Like I said, leadership is an arduous journey and human beings usually like to pursue the path of least resistance. So, for a person to develop a taste for it, they must be introduced to it through these most common venues:
- They are put in a leadership position at work for a project or promotion.
- They are mentored by someone who demonstrates strong leadership qualities.
- They were required to take a training or read a book on the matter at work, at school; for a project or a course.
- They have a superior at work who exemplified good leadership qualities and wanted to emulate these.
- They come from a family of leaders/entrepreneurs, or their parents were strong leaders in the community.
- They have witnessed firsthand the benefits of strong leadership.
These are all ways someone might be enticed to learn more about the virtues and merits of leadership. Thus, they have developed a taste for it after having been in contact with its potency and value. They have discovered that indeed, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”
In short, They came, they saw, they conquered.
Smart people who get a taste of leadership, its benefits, and how important it is, usually want more of it for themselves. So, those who develop a taste for leadership comprise the biggest percentage of leaders out there in our organizations, churches, and communities. They are the most common breed of leaders and they entered through the larger path that leads to leadership.
And then, there are those strange animals (like me)…
2- Those Who Hunger For It
Now, the backgrounds of those who hunger for leadership are usually difficult ones. They are most often filled with suffering, want, heartache, failure, and mediocrity. And, for the most part, these types don’t even know that they are, deep down and through their struggle, hungering for leadership in their lives.
You see, people who hunger for leadership in their lives are those who lack it the most. Those are people who haven’t witnessed good leadership examples around them for most of their lives. In life, we tend to pursue aggressively what we lack the most. So, the types of people who hunger for leadership may be:
- Born of the wrong side of the tracks
- From broken households with underachieving, abusive, or addicted parents
- People who never had a good boss or supervisor at work
- Hanging out with the wrong crowd (losers beget losers)
- Just on a life path where there were few or no strong leaders in general
- Just unaware. Many people just don’t know themselves, what they want, or what they need.
As for myself, I was a product of the first two categories. My parents, although loving, were mostly underachievers. And until my early twenties, I wasn’t on a path that was brimming with leaders. That all changed when I joined a local Church and began noticing and observing some strong and godly men – Church leaders and elders. As a ‘hungry for leadership’ young man, I began modelling them. This changed my life.
You see, when an individual in hungry for leadership, he’s ready for it. When an individual is hungry for leadership, he doesn’t need to ‘develop a taste for it’. He witnesses it and he just wants more of it right away. It fills a deep and nagging need. For those who are hungry for it, leadership, when it shows up in their lives (through people, books, or other means) fills a deep whole. And the funny thing for me was that I didn’t even know that I was hungry for leadership. At the time, I didn’t even have a name for it. I just wanted more of ‘it’. The personal growth associated with leadership development was, for me, a way of finding and forging myself into the man I wanted to be ideally. The books I read, the sermons I heard, and the men I modeled (or is it the men I read and the books I modeled?) slowly prepared me for the path I was to take later in life when I chose to join The John Maxwell Team and become a certified speaker, coach, and leadership trainer. It was my hunger for leadership in my own life that propelled me head on in deep leadership development, research, and writing. It was my lack of leadership that made me hunger for it so badly.
This is why I find the stories of underdogs so inspiring. This is why I enjoy movies where characters undergo huge personal transformation and grow to their fullest potential. And, this is why I find the most inspiring leaders are, most often than not, those who grew through that very path of hunger. Those men and women who came from nothing are usually those who have the most to teach us about leadership. It’s a long list that I won’t bother to write here, but suffice it to say that people who became leaders through adversity because they hungered for leadership are the ones that have the most to teach us about this unusual pursuit.
Of course, we could almost add a third category: Those who, after developing a taste for it, hungered for more. There are many great leaders who grew from that dynamic dual path combination. However, I really wanted to boil it down to what started it all, the taste or the hunger (?). It’s always one or the other.
I would like to conclude by saying that good leadership, like gold, is valuable because it is rare. The world is hungry for good leaders. Therefore I encourage you, if you are not already hungry for it, to at least develop a taste for it. By slowly developing the leader within you, you will become the person you were meant to be, and you will inspire others to ‘taste leadership’, and you may even fill the hunger of those who so desperately need it.