As a kid, I was often told that being the boss made you a leader. A boss sits atop the organizational chart and tells people what to do and how to things get done. At 18 years old, I had the opportunity to host a talk radio program for teens and college-aged students. I quickly found people to work for me and I built a team of 12 people. Unfortunately, I was a great boss but a lousy leader. I didn’t understand the answer to the question: What is leadership?
Within a few months, our program had become the number two most listened to program in our region. This seemed to solidify my understanding of leadership. I was barking out orders, people were following them, and the organization grew in listeners each week. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that my team didn’t do anything unless I told them what to do and they didn’t really like being told what to do. It was especially tough to lead those who had recently discovered their minor celebrity status. I did have one tool that every boss has in their tool belt that allows them to counter bad attitudes: I could terminate those who refused to follow my orders. No matter how many times I threatened to fire those who didn’t get in line, I never did. I didn’t need to. People on my “team” quit on a regular basis. In fact, those remaining on the team began to talk about it as if it were a normal part of talk radio. We would talk about how difficult it was to find people who truly loved our audience and were willing to put in the work to make the show a success.
The sad truth is that my love for the audience and being a boss that demanded action wasn’t enough to create a successful program. The program’s ratings eventually plateaued and I found myself working harder and giving more direction with limited return on my investment.
Finally, my pastor handed me 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell and said, “I think you will find this book helpful.” I misinterpreted that to mean, “You are such a great leader, I think you will like this book.” I put the book on my shelf and thought I would get around to reading it when I had the time.
A few months later, my dad attended a leadership conference and bought a book written by the keynote speaker. The book was 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. This time, his message to me was a little more clear. “There are some really good things in this book that I think will help you as you build your radio program.” At this point, I was struggling to maintain our current level of quality programming. Only three people were working on the program and I was doing all that I could to keep similar ratings from week to week. I didn’t have the time to read a book!
Then it happened. One evening as I was walking out the front door to go to the radio station, my wife said, “If you don’t change how you lead your people, you will not have anyone left to lead.” I took her comments to heart… two weeks later. For two weeks, I thought I could prove her wrong. I took the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership off of the shelf and I searched for all of the evidence I needed to do just that. However, everything I read proved her right. Here are a few quotes from the book that affected me most:
“True Leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence and that cannot be mandated.
To be a leader, a person has to not only be out front, but also have people intentionally coming behind him, following his lead, and acting on his vision.
The interaction between every leader and follower is a relationship, and all relationships either add value to or subtract from a person’s life.”
Prior to reading the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, I had declared myself the leader but had not developed a relationship or shared a vision for success with anyone on the team. I was the boss, but I didn’t have any influence with them beyond what was required for job security. Without influence, I wasn’t a leader.
Twenty years later, I am no longer in talk radio, but I am still studying leadership development. It has afforded me the opportunity to lead teams of just a few dozen people to organizations of several thousand. Regardless of where I am going, I have learned that if no one is following me, I am only taking a walk. As John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”
This post originally appeared on John Maxwell’s The Leading Edge blog: http://johnmaxwellteam.com/2017/03/14/what-is-leadership/