be a leader not a follower

Raising Your Son to Be a Leader Not a Follower

Around 130 miles southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan lies the small village of Sabray. In late June of 2005 one of the villagers named Mohammed Gulab, a husband and father,  went on a patrol of one of the surrounding mountains. Over several days the people of Sabray were hearing intense warfare between the U.S. military and Taliban forces. In terms of the war, the village was split. Many in the small community had relatives fighting with the Taliban, while others hated Taliban brutality and hoped the United States would prevail. Gulab had issues with either side as he roamed the mountains with his AK-47 that day. Then he made a discovery that would change his life. He and the two men he was with came across a badly injured Navy Seal. He was shot twice, had shrapnel wounds throughout his legs, had suffered several broken vertebrae in his back, and was dying of thirst. He had to make a decision. Should he help the American or not? Gulab decided to help the soldier, whose name was Marcus Luttrell. His story was told in the book turned movie Lone Survivor.

Luttrell was fortunate to be found by Gulab, who lived by an honor code known as Pashtunwali. Three of the most important tenets are that they show extreme hospitality to a visitor regardless of their background, they offer protection to that person from their enemies (to the death if needed), and show bravery by protecting their property against any invasion. Luttrell was even more fortunate because Gulab, not only lived by that code of honor, but he was also a fierce warrior and leader. At age eight he began fighting the Russians when they invaded in 1979. By age fifteen, he was commanding troops and had earned the honored nickname, “The Lion of Sabray.” He was now in his early thirties and when he made the courageous decision to protect the wounded American soldier, the villagers of Sabray (also known as fierce fighters) followed his lead. The Taliban demanded that Gulab turn over Luttrell. When they told him that he, his wife, and his children would all die if he didn’t comply, The Lion replied with a snarl of defiance, “I will never give up the American.” Luttrell would end up surviving because of Gulab’s protection and hospitality, but mostly because he chose to be a leader not a follower.

Recently someone told me that he thought my son showed leadership potential. That has had me thinking about my son and what to teach him about being a leader. My hope is to raise him to have the same discipline, courage, and honor that Gulab showed. Here are 5 important principles of leadership I am teaching my son (and daughter for that matter) to live out.

Be Willing to Stand Apart

The higher a person goes in leadership the heavier the responsibility they carry, the louder the criticism, and the more lonely it gets. Strong leaders have an ability to step forward with courage of conviction and a willingness to take a stand when others won’t. They set a standard for others to chase. That’s the difference between a leader and the crowd. Being a part of the crowd gives a sense of security. Leadership requires the bravery to step out where it is unsafe. NFL Coach Tony Dungy, who will enter the Hall of Fame soon, would call it being “Uncommon. ”

Be Trustworthy

In order to be an effective leader people have to be able to believe in you. A leader has to earn trust. That means always following through on promises and telling the truth time and time again. Your reliability should be scrupulous and predictable. When it’s not you lose credibility and when you lose that you lose your voice.

Invest in, Care for, and Empower Others

In my opinion, no leader in history modeled this better than Jesus of Nazareth. Leadership is not about empowering oneself, it’s about serving others. [Tweet This] The best way to inspire people to a mission is to know their gifts and passions and then put them in a position to live them out. If you want to be a person of influence you need to see what people are today, what they could be, what they want to be, and then help them get there.

Define Reality

In his book The Art of Leadership, Max Dupree states that the first responsibility of every leader is to define reality. The truth can be difficult to confront, particularly the truth about ourselves. If you don’t believe me then try playing a round of golf without taking a gimme putt or a mulligan. You find out really quick your actual level of play. A true leader is able to see himself for who he actually is (the good and the bad) and not how he wishes to be seen. Facing the truth, however ugly it may be, is essential. A leader seeks out feedback to gain a more clear picture rather than avoid it. Growth, change, innovation, and solutions are only possible when there is a firm understanding and acceptance of the current reality.

Never Stop Learning

A good leader must first be a follower. Find a person possessing the type of leadership qualities you want and learn from them. Then never stop learning. NFL Coach Dick Vermeil said that the time he spent as a broadcaster prepared him to be a better coach because he was able to observe other coaches and see how they led. At that time he was already a champion at the collegiate level and had taken the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl. Yet he never stopped learning and growing. That enabled him to come back to coaching and win a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams. In humility he embraced learning from others to reach an even higher level of excellence.

Sound Off

What leadership principles would you teach your child?

BJ Foster

BJ Foster is the Director of Content Creation for All Pro Dad and a married father of two.

  • Sgpratt

    Fostering leadership is so important in these days of peer pressure that can too easily turn deadly. Great points, BJ.

  • Tim

    great thoughts on leadership. I try to teach my daughter to lead by example – her example is Christ, and to lead you need to follow Him. We have a little saying in our family, Pray, do your best, and Let God take care of us.

    God Bless and keep up the wonderful work.

  • Keith

    Good article. I will share w my son and my daughter.

  • John Gray

    “Being a leader not a follower”…. got me thinking. As you say, sometimes it’s appropriate to be a follower (following my children’s lead sometimes, for example!), but also in our communities, at work, in relationships. We need both – we (well, I at least) don’t have time and capacity to lead everyone on everything; and I know that’s not quite what you’re saying here.

    For me, leader and follower refer to roles, not people – we swap roles according to circumstances and issues, rather than ‘I’m always the leader and you’re always the follower’. We can swap roles, in a dance of co-creation if that’s not too fanciful a phrase. And, of course, I can always aspire to being more of a leader in my own life – self-leadership.

  • CDub71

    Although I agree that these are all good traits to have and develop, I don’t think they’re necessarily confined to leaders. More importantly, I don’t believe everyone is called to be a leader. Without followers, you wouldn’t have leaders…only people out for a walk. There is a definite role for God’s follower people – they need to find the right leaders to follow. They need to be able to quickly and accurately identify people with the traits you’ve shared here.

    You say that “a good leader must first be a follower”; to me, that sounds like you’re considering it a progression…a graduation. It’s a good thing to grow into being a good follower, too. Don’t paint being a follower as a bad option or only as a first step.

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