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Leader vs. Title: 6 Qualities of a True Leader

Leader vs. title

All I wanted was to be a leader in high school. I thought, “When I get to the helm of an organization, maybe I’ll finally be recognized. My life will be fulfilled.”

In my spirit, I knew I was born to be top dog. But, life wasn’t manifesting that calling…at all. I ran for president of National Honor Society, Future Farmer’s of America, and Drama club. I’m sure I lost many more but disappointment wiped them from memory.

Just give me the crown.

I was more concerned with title over position. What do I mean? I wanted the title of “president” because I wanted something to add to my resume. I wanted to have some sense of power. But, I didn’t want to do anything.

Deep down, all I wanted was acceptance. But, I didn’t live like a leader. I didn’t conduct myself like a president (more on this in next week’s post).

One of the best examples of having a position mindset comes from my wife. Kristen inspires me. She wanted to be Miss USA from childhood. Her mind was set on the crown, and every action was geared towards this dream. Before she went to competition, she imagined herself as Miss USA. She conducted herself as if she had already won. She was in position and just needed the title. She packed her bags with no intent of coming home. She was headed to New York City. She wasn’t trying to be Miss USA, she was Miss USA long before she was crowned.

A humbling moment came when I was a freshman in college. My good friend Chaille told me he had just been asked to be a leader in a faith-based group we were involved in. I was hurt. Once again, I had been overlooked. Chaille had the demeanor of a southern politician. He exuded leadership, but I was the class clown.

I gave up on being a leader. In fact, I disappeared. I went away to the Virgin Islands to study, and I made a decision to be hidden. I spent a lot of time reading. Every evening as the Caribbean sunset went down, you could find me reading a one-year Bible. Solitude changed me.

After I completed my study abroad, I started afresh at Missouri State University. With my ego considerably diminished, I started helping at this student led ministry called Icthus. Before long, the leader saw my “class clown” demeanor and asked me to head up skits. This title didn’t require anything new from me. I was simply in my element and after the skits started gaining attention, other like-minded people came forward to help. I ended up naturally leading a skit team. Without trying, I had become an integral part of the organization. By the end of that semester I got asked to be on leadership!

Being on leadership taught me a great deal. Often, you don’t get your way and your actions are always in check. My conduct was reprimanded on many occasions. As a leader, you have to act like a leader.

My freshman year, I was incredibly lucky to have a group of upperclassmen take me under their wings. When I became a leader, I was lucky to have previous leaders spend time with me as well. They changed my life. I made a promise that I, too, would begin mentoring others.

By my senior year, I had a whole group of younger guys I pretty much called my “sons.” I often utilized their help to deploy mischievious pranks. When one of them decided to join a fraternity, I was concerned.

Theta Chi was starting on campus and they were looking for founding fathers. Previously, I had a terrible experience pledging a fraternity, and I wasn’t about to let Seth go through it, too. With some prompting from some mentors, I joined…as a senior in college! Since I was the oldest, I naturally became the first president.

Not once did I get to relish in the title. In position, I had a lot of work to do. All of us “founding fathers” had a lot of work to do. We had to recruit, establish ourselves on campus, and build a solid foundation. I further grew as a leader due to the leadership training I got from Theta Chi. We grew and flourished.

During a summer convention, I was selected to take part in an advanced leadership track. Some of my key take-aways were the differences between a manager and a leader. These concepts drastically changed my idea of leadership, and highlighted differences between title and position.

I can’t remember many of the details, but concepts sunk into my psyche over time. Here are 6 qualities of a true leader.

Leaders lead by example

While a person with a title might try and enforce activity from those “below” him or her, a leader demonstrates how the organization will act…all of the time. Problems arise when a leader tries to enforce something he or she doesn’t live out.

Leaders lead with vision

While a person wanting a title might be fine with status quo, a leader is on a journey and has a dream or an idea of where he or she wants to organization to go.

Leaders lead with sacrifice

Back when I used to work for Eli Lilly, several major products lost their patents. The CEO came forward and stated he would not take a salary from the company that year. His sacrifice inspired others to endure through the scarcer times.

Leaders lead without recognition

While someone only concerned about title proclaims it to everyone when the have it, a leader silently and humbly waits. In fact, I’ve noticed many top leaders aren’t concerned with recognition at all. They simply want to live out the calling placed before them.

Leaders lead by recognizing others

Rather than seeking glorification, a leader never fails to honor and recognize other leaders and those truly putting in the work or sacrifice.

Leaders remain teachable

While someone only concerned with getting a title might be prideful and think they know everything, a leader seeks improvement and wisdom from others who have demonstrated success on the road before him or her.

The real crown resides within. During those years when I wanted a title, I lacked identity. I was hoping to find or take on a new identity through a title. But, when you already know who you are and what your position is within, the title is no longer necessary. Even if a true leader bares the title of “janitor,” he or she still acts like CEO.

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