Who, what, when, where, and why? This is an extremely common phrase when asking someone to simplify something complicated. The question demands a simplistic, nuts and bolts response. It requires boiling things down to their most basic level.
In that spirit, let’s take a commonly overcomplicated concept of leadership and break it down. Here are the five W’s of leadership:
I still find it fascinating that when I speak to groups and poll the audience with, “Raise your hand if you are a leader” there is always someone who doesn’t raise their hand. Maybe it’s because they don’t see themselves as one, maybe they don’t have direct reports, maybe they are on the lowest level of the organization, or maybe…just maybe, they don’t really understand what a leader is.
President John Quincy Adams said it best, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” If you desire a more simplistic definition, then John Maxwell defines leadership simply as, “influence.”
I commonly tell the players I coach that we all have influence. We can influence people to do good or bad. When we work hard, others work hard. We become complacent, others become complacent. However we choose to use it, we are all leaders because we possess the ability to influence.
Now that we are clear on who can be a leader, let’s define the “what” behind leadership. To me, leadership is, “The ability and the willingness to be the person that people want to follow.” There is a key word in this definition…willingness. Again, we all have the ability to lead, but do we have the willingness.
What does willingness look like in the world of leadership? Work ethic, vision, pure motives, intentionality, and selfless sacrifice to just name a few of the positive attributes. It’s the desire to walk into chaos, confusion, and the lives of our people when everyone else wants to walk out. Willingness is what drives what we do.
As a leader, we are powered by our “why.” Great leaders better others and the worlds they live in. They are people centric. People come before projects, they come before the numbers. Projects don’t get done without people, the numbers will never get met without people.
Simon Sinek encourages us to prioritize people because, “In tough times, the numbers will never rush to save you.” In his book, Leaders Eat Last, he introduces the concept of abstraction. That is when we as leaders, “Begin to view people as numbers, statistics, or even expenses to be tracked.”
There has been a significant transition to the prioritization of people since 2020. Prior to, it would be fair to say that people needed organizations more than organizations needed people. A world-wide pandemic compounded by a massive labor shortage flipped that script. Organizations now need people more than people need organizations.
The why behind every great leader should be the people they lead. If we aspire to be a person that people want to follow, we should see more in others than they see in themselves. People are The Why that drives great leaders.
There is no greater time to lead than now. There is a level of urgency that should burden us constantly. Without this level of urgency, we are prone to complacency and decline. While complacency and decline may seem different, they aren’t. They are both headed in the same direction, DOWN.
I heard my Pastor, Mike Linch, once say in his Lunch with a Leader program that, “You never drift into good health.” Think about it for a second, if you want to be healthier you have to exercise, eat better, go to the doctor, etc. No one ever got healthier from sitting on the couch, eating junk food, and wasting time.
Organizations and leaders are either growing or dying, there is no in between. There is no better time to inspire others than right now.
If a leader betters others and the worlds they live in, then what are those worlds? Those worlds look like classrooms, sanctuaries, sports fields, board rooms, corner offices, you name it.
It is easy to believe that leadership is solely connected to the workplace. Leadership takes place wherever your feet make contact with the ground. One of most overlooked places where your leadership is needed is at home. All leadership needs to start there.
The title of mom/dad, sister/brother, son/daughter, and/or spouse should be the most prevalently displayed title across our chests. The better we lead at home, the better we lead in the workplace. There is no greater influence that we possess.
So final question. Is it easier to be a leader or a follower? I didn’t ask whether we want to be a leader or a follower, I asked is it easier?
The answer should be that being a leader is a whole heck of a lot harder than being a follower. Expectations increase, pressures mount, and burdens grow. Leadership is not for the faint of heart.
When leadership gets complicated, chaos ensues, the crisis of the day occurs, or the weight on our shoulders gets too heavy to bare, simplify things. Remember the five W’s of leadership. It will guide us where we need to go, and that direction is always forward.
It’s kind of like a boxer in a big prize fight. It’s the last round, they are tired from a long and strenuous battle, but regardless, they get off their stool, rise to their feet, and answer the bell. It is who we are as leaders, it’s what we do, it’s why we do it, the when is always now, and the arena of leadership is where we do it.