Who is a True Leader?

By | December 10, 2018

[December 10, 2018]  There’s an old piece of leadership advice – one that I’m unsure the origin – that goes something like this; true leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.  Good advice.  A mentor of mine told me that only one thing determines whether or not you’re a true leader; the opinion of those folks you’re supposed to be leading.

“Your title makes you a manager.  Your people will decide if you’re a leader, and it’s up to you to live up to that.” – Bill Campbell, American business executive

A great job title might be cool and attractive to those who don’t know better, but it doesn’t mean much unless you can earn the respect of those who work for you and of those you work for.  While much of what I’ve written here at www.theLeaderMaker.com is about the individual traits of a leader, my point has always been that leadership is about people and people determine who a true leader is.

Ultimately leadership is about getting others to do things they would not ordinarily do and do it because they want to.  True leaders understand that leadership is not about putting greatness into people (by teaching them things) but about recognizing that there’s greatness in everyone and your job is to create an environment where it can emerge.

True leadership lies in guiding others to success and that everyone is performing at their best.  This is the centerpiece of exceptional performance.  There must be a burning desire, call it self-motivation, which makes a workplace great to be a part.  Leaders are those who make this possible through the use of their talents and understanding of their followers.

The Boy Scouts got this figured out a long time ago.  The senior leader positions are all elected by the boys.  As in any democracy, leaders are elected.  In other words, those who rise to the top are the most valued by those who vote.  While most organizations don’t “elect” their leadership directly, they “re-elect” them every day by their actions.

Only a true leader can create an environment where greatness emerges; where resilience is reinforced, where people can freely make mistakes and learn from them, where people can throw off the shackles of moral cowardice, and where we are judged only on the merits of our abilities and performance.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Who is a True Leader?

  1. Bryan Lee

    We must recognize the characteristics of a leader – not only so we can weed out the demagogues, but so we can freely embrace a true leader when he does emerge. When people sincerely believe in a leader, they rise above their petty self-concerns. They become eager to accept his direction and input, and are inspired to accomplish far more than they could have on their own.

    1. Andrew Dooley

      By recognizing the characteristics of a true leader, we set a standard for our leaders and, more important, for ourselves. Setting your sights on the summit, even when you have yet to arrive there, is the surest way of completing the journey.

  2. Gil Johnson

    A true leader does not want followers; he wants to teach others how to be leaders. He does not want control; he wants the truth.

  3. Dennis Mathes

    A true leader shakes people from their reverie and tells them, No, you don’t need to live a life of desperation and confusion. Yes, you do have the ability to find meaning in your life, and the unique skills to fulfill that meaning. You are an important link in a chain of generations past; you have a legacy worth preserving and a future worth fighting for.

  4. Max Foster

    ith so many people purporting to be leaders these days, how do we recognize a true leader? To answer that question, we must step back and ask: What is it that a leader is really trying to accomplish? A true leader wants nothing more than to make people stand on their own, as leaders in their own right. Instead of trying to blind us with his or her brilliance, a true leader reflects our own light back to us, so that we may see ourselves anew.

    1. Eddie Ray Anderson,

      Wow, you hit it out of the park with that comment.

    2. Dale Paul Fox

      Yes, Max. Well said and as usual, you hit the target’s bullseye.

  5. Albert Ayer

    A leader provides a new perspective, inspiring us to abandon our narrow field of vision. When we are preoccupied with our self-interests – be they petty or great – a leader sends out a wake-up call, alerting us to seek the true priorities in life.

  6. Greg Heyman

    Today, we are surrounded by people we may call leaders … in government, in business, in education, in the arts. But we are suffering from a scarcity of genuine leadership. Where are these people really leading us, and why? These are the questions that must be answered for us to really understand true leadership.

  7. Darryl Sitterly

    The purpose and intent [of a true leader] shall be to elevate mankind’s faith, and to fill the world with justice — Maimonides, Laws of Kings, 4:10

    1. Georgie M.

      Best quote from the article … “True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but about lifting others up.” by Sherry Dew

  8. Jerry C. Jones

    I’ve always wondered how much of being a great leader is based on how much others respect and revere us versus how well we can attain the mission. In getting the mission accomplished is the most important thing as long as we treat followers well.

    1. Anita

      Not so sure Jerry. I think Gen. Satterfield has it right on this one!

  9. Army Captain

    We’re all looking for that one event that shows we are a true leader. Is this it?

    1. Eric Coda

      Right! But there is never just one event. Thanks for your comments and your service, Army Captain. Keep up the great work.

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