As an elementary school student, I was fascinated with the subject of leadership. Like many boys, I read books about heroic leaders in history. Became absorbed by the feats of fictitious leaders in stories and movies. All courageous men putting themselves in harm’s way to save the helpless and weak. Invariably coming out on top and riding off victoriously into the sunset. With their enemies properly captured, incarcerated, or dead.

What were their motives? Not money, increased respect, or higher placement on the social scale. Famous military leaders were typically depicted as selfless heroes more interested in accomplishing their patriotic duty than moving up in rank or attaining a lofty status.

Selfless leaders like those depicted were invariably problem solvers. Wily strategists more than good at the fast draw, quick with their fists, or skilled at the use of war machines. Airplane pilots revered because of their maneuvering ability. But in the context of being better than the opposing pilots. And leading their units in successfully accomplishing a larger mission.

The logical transference of my interest was involvement in sports. But I was a skinny kid with bad eyes, compounded by visual depth perception issues. I was pretty good at track and field, and some boyhood diversions like marbles or mumblety-peg,  pocketknives flipped toward the ground and sticking upright. Circles drawn in Arizona’s caliche-caked earth and divided by a single line into two parts. The objective: slice your opponent’s “territory” into increasingly smaller units, until what was left was smaller than a shoe.

But even something as innocuous as playtime competitive diversions, reinforced by books and movies about heroes, taught me that “smart” almost always trumps “tough.” Effective leadership is almost always based on the quality of insight into human nature and the challenges encountered.

My reading of history in the areas of military, exploratory, or political achievements taught me that victory is usually achieved by creative thinking and action. Doing something the opponent does not expect and could not counter.

Leadership also included a willingness to take reasoned risks. Acknowledging the chance of making a mistake. But believing in oneself. Accepting the adage “failure is not an option” as more probable than just possible.

Non-Competitive Leadership

A myth places boys as gravitating toward a competitive life. Woven into our male DNA, just as females are “supposed to” be inclined toward cooperative behaviors. Stereotypical conclusions may work in movies and literary works of fiction. But they are much too simplistic and ineffective in real life.

Over the years I discovered real leadership is much different than management or administration. Nor is it based on bravado and a macho superiority.

Leadership is a powerful mix:

  • intelligence
  • willingness to learn
  • openness to the opinions of subordinates or colleagues
  • creative ingenuity
  • flexibility
  • the determination to find and use solutions to problems.

Real leadership is most closely related to the same qualities our best teachers possess. Like Jesus, they urge their followers to think deeply. Inspire them to find talents they did not know they had. Such leaders compliment with a demonstration of confidence. Not by artificial forms of positive reinforcement such as continuously saying “Good job!”

Demonstrating confidence takes respect and perceptiveness. Treating the subordinate or student in ways that acknowledge their existing and evident strengths as a starting point.

Check out these examples:

I’ve been impressed by your ability to work effectively with computers and other technical devices. You intuitively solve problems in a step-by-step way, as our best American leaders did when facing serious dilemmas. Lincoln used the kind of skill you have with tech in isolating problems. And working with others in finding and refining solutions. Step by step, little by little. What are the differences between solving technical problems and working with human beings with different opinions? How could you prove to a future employer you can do more than interact with a computer and technological challenges, by being part of a problem-solving team?

In this company all employees are asked to think as creatively as possible. Creativity in an organization is not like composing music or painting a beautiful picture. It starts with hypothesis development, the ability to make good educational guesses as to what a researcher will later find out. Not test-tube research, but the kind of quest that results in possible answers based on what we read, hear, or intuitively know. You do that well with sensitivity to what is happening around you. Like writing a one sentence “cause and effect” hypothesis. Something like “Worker efficiency, productivity, and creativity will measurably improve if they meet in person one hour each day to discuss specific ways communication can be improved without the use of technical interfaces.” 

Leadership as in the examples is not indoctrination, browbeating, intimidating challenges, or a demonstration of how someone with a superior intellect or organizational rank forces compliance via specific assessment strategies.

Jesus never acted that way. Rather, he used metaphorical analogies (parables) to make his followers think in concrete terms. Stories that touched on the ability of his disciples and others to see logic in God’s will— how He wanted human beings to relate to each other. And to Him.

©2023 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s