The Meaning of Leadership

When a team wins or a business is successful, the families of the players or the workers may be excited for the moment; but when they count the cost, I wonder how many would say that the temporary accomplishment outweighs all the memories missed or the bonds not formed. Or, worse yet, maybe they have been programmed over time to believe that the all-encompassing sacrifice of family, community, time—or anything other than what it takes to win games, close sales, or build a business—is an accepted part of life, simply what is required to achieve the number one priority: winning.

Sadly, such “accomplishment” without significance will ultimately prove to be meaningless and without lasting value. The meaning of leadership for mentor leaders insists on more and defines success in a much more robust and well-rounded way. Here are the things they do.

Mentor Leaders Put People First

Shortsighted leadership focuses primarily on the bottom line. In football, it’s wins and losses and playoff berths. In business, it’s quarterly profits, shareholder equity, and sales targets. Not that these things aren’t important—they are. But when they become the primary focus of a business or a team, they inevitably result in an organization that is out of balance. Leaders whose definition of success depends on such a short-term focus—and by short-term I mean temporal, noneternal—will one day wake up to discover they’ve missed out on what is truly important in life, namely, meaningful relationships.

Mentor Leaders Strive for Significance in Life

As you build your leadership skills, it’s important to remember that why you lead is as important as whom you lead. [Tweet This] Leading for the benefit of others is a much more compelling and powerful motivation than leading merely to get ahead or to hit an arbitrary target. Leadership based on building significance into the lives of others is much more energizing in the long term than other types of leadership. The very nature of mentor leadership is what it endures and can be replicated. As we build into the lives of the people around us, one at a time, one-on-one, we have the potential to extend our positive influence through them to countless other people as well.

Mentor Leaders Keep an Eternal Perspective

There is always a tension between demanding results now and implementing a longer-term perspective. In the National Football League, there are coaches and general managers who want to build a team that can win now, and others who gradually build a successful team. More often than not, coaches who try to build an immediate championship team end up mortgaging their future success at a great cost with free-agent acquisitions. Coaches who desire more sustainable, longer-term success will typically try to build their team through the draft. There’s no guarantee that either way will work. Those competing tensions have blown up some good teams and good people when a middle ground could not be found.

Mentor leaders tend to lean toward longer-term results. They are involved in the present, but are willing to defer immediate gratification in order to build value and structure into people’s lives, creating a culture based on something more than wins and losses. It takes time to build mentoring relationships. It takes time to add value to other people’s lives and to achieve what the book of Joshua refers to as “good success”. Here’s how my good friend James Brown describes “good success” in his book Role of a Lifetime: Reflections on Faith, Family, and Significant Living.

God’s success is “good success”. It’s significance. It’s making a difference in the lives of others. It’s Joshua standing on the banks of the Jordan River, feeling anxious and inadequate, and realizing that he is being called to do something that will make a difference in the lives of the people he is being called to lead. And in that moment, it’s Joshua also realizing that he can only do it with the leadership and in the strength of God.


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