Alfie is a song written in 1966 by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. As a 1967 high school graduate pondering the future, I was captured by Dionne Warwick's performance of this song that posed and answered the question: What is life all about or better said, what should life be about? In this brief article, I want to use a line from Alfie to answer the question: What does genuinely great leadership look like?
Different people have different answers to that question. Some say it is know-how in action. Others believe it's all about past experience utilized in the present. Many declare great leadership depends on practicing one's skills. Then, there is the group that says it boils down to character or personality expressed. The best leadership books and gurus say being a genuinely difference-making leader requires a blend of all those...know-how, skill, character and personality.
While I believe all those are informative answers, I do not believe they address the question with the clarity needed to be truly great leaders. In a word that I believe nails it, I want to share my opinion of what genuinely great leadership looks like in everyday living and leading.
Whatever you believe the answer to the question is, your heart-held belief system is what determines your leadership style...how your leadership looks in everyday living and leading. Much has been written about leadership style or if you prefer, approach to leadership. Though there are many variations, I believe there are only two major styles of leadership: Authoritarian and Servant.
Authoritarian (Dictatorial) Style
Authoritarian leaders lead from a fear-based, power, position, command, control and manipulation model. Based on their own ideas and know-how, these leaders define, provide and dictate to their followers clear expectations of what the dictatorial leaders feel needs to be done, the when and how it should be done and rewards or punishments associated with performance. They call the shots…make decisions independently, seeking little or no input from their followers and offering them little or no emotional and spiritual support. They lead by a false leadership principle…that followers exist for the benefit of leaders. They tend to be abrasive, abusive and demeaning of people and pushers rather than leaders who pull followers toward them and upward to achieving their potential.
Servant leaders lead from a love-based paradigm that focuses on people, relationships and service. These leaders believe it is their job to serve their followers by removing obstacles and providing the tools and resources needed by them to be successful. They do not establish the separation factor from their followers that is a distinguishing characteristic of the Authoritarian style. Instead, they become members of the follower group, offering guidance and allowing, indeed readily encouraging and rewarding, input from followers. They recognize the desires we all have for relationship and to belong, participate and contribute to something greater than ourselves. Therefore, Servant leaders understand the power of discussion and collaboration and facilitate those by creating an inclusive environment that nurtures and nourishes follower growth and contribution to the overall effort.
Most importantly, Servant leaders practice The Golden Rule. Because they have a heart for people, they are relational at their core and possess a high level of what some call Emotional Intelligence (I label it HeartSkill). That skill assures they see and handle people according to The Golden Rule. They place high value on others and behave well toward them. Their godly examples are their best mentoring and coaching tools. Those are what assure healthy development and growth of people entrusted to their care. Their followers truly enjoy being around and working with these special leaders because they support their followers, respect their individuality and treat them individually. Servant leaders trust, extend grace and rather than cornering, fanging, nailing, shaming, demeaning and punishing followers, they pick them up when they fall, are gracious toward them and give them space, the benefit of the doubt and wise counsel. Their discipling, rather than punitive, actions create stronger followers and organizations and greater mutual respect and trust between leaders and followers. That mutuality assures confidential matters remain confidential. It assures power of position is used only in appropriate scenarios, doing so privately and with godly sensitivity and wisdom. And, mutual respect and trust of followers builds group relationships that maximize harmony and unity, while minimizing conflicts and division.
As sure as I believe there's a heaven above; Alfie, I know there's something much more
Something even non-believers can believe in; I believe in love, Alfie; Without true love we just exist, Alfie; Until you find the love you've missed; You're nothing, Alfie; When you walk let your heart lead the way.
Two words: Unconditional Love.
While leadership is certainly about know-how, skill, character and personality, most importantly I believe real difference-making leadership is all about loving and serving the people God has entrusted to our care.
For far too long, I practiced the Authoritarian approach to leadership...at home, in business and in all forums. I learned the extremely hard and very expensive way how that style breeds nearly every conceivable bad attitude in leaders and followers, appeals to negative emotions and feelings and causes constant problems. As I have discovered in my own life and those of thousands of leaders I have had the privilege to mentor and coach, most people will do as little as possible for title-slinging, card-toting and list-flashing drill-sergeant types, but will leap over tall buildings and run through walls for a leader who really lovingly cares for those entrusted to their care.
Three decades ago, I consciously chose to follow history's greatest leader…Jesus…and adopt his heart-based, love motivated, service-oriented state-of-the-art paradigm of leadership that is centered on relationships and people rather than transactional and quantitative in its focus. He went where there was no path and left a trail worthy of taking. His is the best Servant model ever!
In Jesus’ state-of-the-art paradigm, leaders lead from the inside out. Being served and cared for is not their viewpoint. For them, leadership begins with unconditional love that plays out in service to and care of others.
My experiences personally, and observing and consulting with thousands of family and business leaders, has been the state-of-the-art Servant style of leadership leads to higher quality results and elevated productivity, job satisfaction and morale.
Unconditional love is the motive of meaningful living and leading.(From 7 Laws of True Prosperity)
Closing Food for Thought
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I—I took the one less traveled and that has made all the difference. —Robert Frost
Leadership is a high calling and gift from God. It is a big responsibility, requiring lots of effort and sacrifice….but immensely rewarding, when enthusiastically and wisely pursued! I am obviously biased toward an approach to that calling, gift and responsibility wherein leaders practice the answer to the question found in the lyrics of Alfie.
As Paul shares in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, love is not merely a feeling or emotion. It is behaving well toward others. By applying Biblically-based unconditional love in their leadership roles, leaders help their followers rise above mediocrity to achieve their highest possible potential.
The winds of change are blowing over leadership worldwide…millions are renouncing the old, obsolete fear-driven Dictatorial paradigm for the new, state-of-the-art, love-driven Servant model. It is the road less traveled. BUT, when practiced, it leads to out-of-this world, superior results with amazing rewards!
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About the Author
Cecil O. Kemp Jr. is the award-winning author of 27 books and a sought after leadership mentor, life coach and keynote speaker.