I’ve just return from a two-day conference where much of the discussion revolved around leadership. It got me thinking about a curious human characteristic that I’ll call the Leadership Paradox.
On the one hand, we all like to think of ourselves as special. We have unique talents to offer. We are all above average. Everyone wants to be treated better than the rest. There is just something in our nature that makes us rankle at being labeled “normal”.
On the other hand, watch how we behave when there is a call for leadership. That’s when we cringe, when we scrunch down in our chairs and attempt to hide behind the person in front of us. We want to blend in, to disappear in the crowd. As a species, we seem to be reluctant to put ourselves forward as leaders. In this situation, everyone wants to be just an Average Guy.
I’m certainly no different. I’ve often considered myself the best #2 in town. I don’t mind doing the work. I don’t mind passing on the orders. I don’t mind taking the back seat. Just don’t ask me to be #1.
What’s that about?
Leadership certainly has its drawbacks. There’s responsibility. There’s obligation. There’s prominence. There’s accountability. Perhaps scariest of all, there’s the chance that no one will follow. We’re not wrong when we view leadership with apprehension. But when we refuse to rise to the challenge of leadership and take refuge in our anonymity, the dangers are even greater.
When people of character refuse to undertake positions of leadership, they leave a power vacuum that the unscrupulous will rush to fill. Practically any leadership role offers opportunities for corruption, abuse and cronyism, and we are never at a loss for scoundrels seeking a chance to further their own agenda. If we want our leaders to be honest, responsive and productive, to have integrity and to lead us with purpose, then people who possess those qualities will have to step up. No one develops those traits on the job. You have to bring them with you when you apply.
There are many opportunities for leadership in life—in our churches, our schools, our government, our workplaces—and sooner or later most of us get the chance to lead. The choice is simple: you can step up, or you can step aside. But if you step aside, you have no room for complaint when the person who does step up uses the opportunity to increase their own personal wealth or power base. You had your chance and you blew it.
Are you going to settle for following a scoundrel, or will you rise to the challenge of leadership?