What is leadership?

Read a hundred books on leadership, and you’ll probably find almost that many different answers to the question, “What is leadership?” One of my favorites comes from one of my favorite books on leadership, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You  by John Maxwell. The first law he mentions is the Law of the Lid.

The Law of the Lid says that any organization can only grow to the level of its leadership. If the leader of an organization has a leadership lid of a 5, that organization can only grow to a 4 because at that point it will bump up against its leadership. But, if the leader can improve himself or herself and become an 8 leader, then the organization can grow to a 7. As the leadership grows, the organization can grow.

It’s not only the lid of the primary leader, but it is the lid of all the leaders that’s important. Maxwell said he likes to consider himself as a lid lifter. He wants to improve the leadership of everyone in his organizations knowing that doing so will allow them to become more effective and productive. Therefore, one way to answer the question, “What is leadership?” is to say it is enabling every person in your organization to realize their full potential so the organization itself can grow.

In order to do this the leader must first of all be growing himself or herself. I am a huge believer in personal growth and continuing education. I did not pursue a master’s degree and a doctorate to advance my career. After all, I didn’t get my masters until I was 58 years old and my doctorate until I was 62. I wanted to learn new things and grow personally. I still read 40-50 books a year, almost all of them non-fiction for the same reason. But, as I grow I also have opportunity to lift the lids of others around me so they can grow.

I’m about to finish a term as the Transitional Pastor of a local church. I’ve been there almost two years. The church has called a pastor who will begin August 26. Recently I challenged a person on church staff to do something outside her comfort zone. She is a very creative and talented individual, but I asked her to do something that she has not done very often. She’s both excited and a little nervous. Asking her to do this is helping lift the lid of her leadership which will be good for both her and the church.

I occasionally accept coaching clients, and part of my focus with them is to lift the lid of their leadership. Most of these clients are ministers although I also work with business and professional people. While they set the agenda for our coaching conversations, I am looking for ways to help lift whatever lids might be holding them back from realizing their full potential. This is what leaders do.

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