Leadership, leverage, and exploitation

One reaction I get to my definition of leadership is that, on the surface, it sounds very exploiting. I don’t look at it that way.

The idea of leverage is neutral. The outcome of that leverage is what we judge as evil, oppressive, greedy, good, self serving, or heroic. Ghandi leveraged other people’s abilities to bring those people to a better place. Hitler leveraged other people’s abilities to bring those people as well as a lot of other people to a much worse place. They were both great leaders. That doesn’t mean they were both great people or that they both did great things. History judges the result of their leadership, not the leadership itself.

A friend of mine raised the question of whether Ghandi leveraged the Indian people or whether they leveraged him. Her point was a good one.

Ghandi didn’t wake up one day and say, “Gee, I’d really like to get these British folks the heck out of here, I wonder if I can convince anyone else that we should do that?” However, like many other people, he had a specific idea and vision for how to make it happen and that is what he was able to rally people around. The difference is that he was able to leverage others to make his idea a reality. He didn’t leverage the goal to be independent. A lot of people had that goal. He leveraged the people around his vision for reaching the goal.

That’s why I like this way of thinking about leadership. It’s about progress, advancing from the present. That’s what Ghandi did. He helped them make progress in the fight for independence.

Could the people of India have done it without him. Probably. Someone else would have come along. But that’s just the thing…it wouldn’t have happened until someone “came along”

They were poised for it but they needed to be mobilized. I’ve seen a lot of instances on a much smaller scale of teams that are poised and motivated to do great things but never make it. They don’t know how to best coordinate their abilities. I don’t think there is only one right leader for a given situation like that. But, I do believe there has to be a leader and there has to be followers for progress to occur.

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