Years ago, I watched this documentary about ants on the Discovery Channel.
It was fascinating to see thousands of ants at work, doing whatever it is they do. And then, the narrator said something that absolutely floored me.
He said that when ants are busy at work, none of them are “in charge.”
Apparently, there’s no hierarchy in terms of getting the work done. Each of the ants simply goes about its business without management, per se.
Okay, I don’t know how scientists figured this out, but I recall that piece of information hit me like a lightning bolt. It made me wonder … could human beings ever get things done without bosses or leaders?
Needless to say, I believe the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
I mean, let’s face it. I don’t have anyone cracking a whip over me right now. No one is telling me or even guiding what I’m writing right now. I believe God may be guiding me at times, but certainly not anyone else.
But here’s the thing. Does being a “self-starter” mean you never need or want leadership? And does being a “boss” mean that you’re actually a “leader?”
Are all leaders bosses? Are all bosses leaders? In my book, the answers to those questions are … No, no, no and no.
As I look back at my career and examine current endeavors, I can clearly see the differences between bosses and leaders. We don’t need to resort to dictionary.com to nail the differences. The words themselves tell the tale.
Bosses boss while leaders lead. It’s easy to boss, but much more challenging to lead. Bossing tends to involve ego while leading accesses empathy.
Bossing says, “It’s my way or the highway!” But leading says, “Bring your best skills and insight to get the job done.”
Bosses limit and constrain you for pure sport, but leaders actually encourage the best in you so that you’ll help the overall effort shine.
As I’m chatting here with you, I’m thinking about some past bosses. The good ones were all leaders.
One of my former bosses is a man by the name of R. Lee Giles. Shortly after he hired me, I recalled asking Lee if he had any advice for me and here’s what he said …
“Just be yourself. I know that you know what you’re doing. That’s why I hired you!”
I will never forget those words. They hit me like a lightning bolt … in a good way.
I’ve never had anyone say something quite like that before or since. Those words encouraged me to actually DO my best. Lee was GREAT. He was a very serious, results-driven manager who somehow managed to run the place like a charming, mom and pop shop. He was a leader.
I recall another boss Stacy Conrad. One day, I had to fill out a worker evaluation. You know full well what they’re about. Anyway, I had to grade myself on various things on a scale of one to five. I gave myself mainly threes and fours.
While looking at my own scores, Stacy actually raised a few of them to fives. I recall she told me …
“When I give you something, you always stay and make sure you get it done!”
That really stunned me. Sometimes, bosses who are true leaders see us in ways that we don’t see ourselves. Yes, they critique, but they also encourage leadership potential in US. Stacy was a hardworking boss, but she was also a leader. Could that possibly be because R. Lee Giles was once her boss?
I recall another boss, Kevin Finch, who told me long after he had left the company that he knew I didn’t always necessarily want to do what he wanted me to do, but he appreciated the fact that I complied which he said made HIS job easier. He was a leader.
I recall another boss, Kathy Contino-Turner who would always say …
“ALWAYS BE PREPARED!” and “GET CREATIVE!”
I put those phrases in capital letters because they continue to be slogans that I work and live by. Kathy was a leader who encouraged everyone to be their best.
I feel like I’ve gotten off on a tangent. I entitled this essay, “Where are the Leaders?”
The title still works because we’re living during a time when we’re seriously questioning our leadership. We look around and we wonder who is or isn’t advocating on our behalf.
We’re wondering who we can or cannot trust. We wonder who is the “Good Guy” and who is the “Bad Guy.” We wonder whether or not things are crumbling around us.
It’s all so confusing, isn’t it?
As we look at society and politics, I think we have to remind ourselves that despite whether or not we “like” who holds positions of authority, WE in fact have to be the leaders.
Leaders aren’t born, they’re made. Bosses aren’t born, they’re made. We get to choose which one we’ll be … if either.
When all is said and done, it comes down to responsibility. Do you see yourself as someone who wants to boss people around or do you really see yourself as a leader with a serious responsibility?
Most people don’t love their bosses, but I believe many people love leaders.
As I look back on some of my great bosses who were also leaders, I realize that they led by example. They didn’t just dole out orders, they rolled up their sleeves as well.
Being a boss is tough and being a leader is even tougher. We have to remember that both our bosses and leaders have bosses too. Who knows what our bosses and leaders are dealing with! Perhaps that’s why they are who they are. No?
And so … where are the leaders?
I think leaders are everywhere. The great thing about leadership is that it’s ultimately a choice. You can be a leader and so can I. You can answer your own question.
When you choose to take a leadership role in your own life, this perhaps makes you the best kind of leader. You demand the best of yourself, yet you also cut yourself some slack.
Leaders are role models. We are ALL role models to someone – whether we choose to be or not.
Imagine what this world would be like if we all stopped looking for leaders and started being leaders. It would be a different world.
Being a leader doesn’t always necessarily mean you’re the one in charge, but it does mean you’re ready and willing to rise to the occasion … which you do.
Where are the leaders? I don’t know. Look in the mirror. If not me, then who? If not you, then who?
If we’re to believe the Discovery Channel, ants seem to already know all about leadership … and the last time I checked …
Ants don’t even have mirrors.