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The 3 Biggest Misconceptions About Horizontal Leadership

What is Not Leadership

Often leaders learn from books, podcasts, and blogs written by leaders who sell leadership trainings, books, or courses and it can kind of get boring. It can be hard to sift through the information on leadership and find things you didn't already know. 

This is where inspiration is hard to come by. So to help you we have created a post of what leadership is not. There are three words often associated with leadership that actually are misconceptions of Horizontal Leadership and those three words are authority, followers, and servant. 

The Big Misconception #1: Leaders have to have authority to lead.

Authority is defined as the power or right to give orders, make decisions & enforce obedience. Leaders lead with the influence of their actions, they do not force actions with authority. They are role models, examples. When you study leaders, you want to model their actions and be able to get similar results. Management is all about control. To control you need authority. 


This authority is typically displayed through what you say. Influence is the inverse of authority. Influence is affecting outcomes in other's behavior. In a recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine entitled, 6 Key Tips to Leading by Example, by Karima Mariama, she states, “How you present yourself in a leadership role affects your ability to successfully leverage authority and motivate others'' (Mariama, 2014). This article is a great example of the difference between Horizontal Leadership and power. 

I am reminded of a great story I remember from when I was a child. It was about a shark who sold shell horns, a father fish who wanted a shell horn for his baby starfish, and a baby starfish. Father fish wrote to the shark. He wanted to purchase a purple shell horn and could only pay $10.00 per month until it was paid off, but no more. 

Every day the father fish would write to the sales shark asking the shark to sell him a purple shell horn for $10.00 per month. This went on for one year until one day when the shark was driving through the neighborhood. It was a cold fall day in the Pacific Ocean. The sales shark pulled up to the house. 

The father fish and baby starfish lived in a very old shell. It was run down. You could see the exterior paint fading. In addition, the seaweeds had grown up around the exterior. The shark approached the front door which was badly damaged and chipping. The screen was missing from the screen door.  

The shark peeked in the windows and could see dirt floors, not pebbled like most of his clients. Instead of knocking he got back in his truck and drove on. The father fish witnessed the whole thing, but the father fish kept writing. The letters had become less frequent over year two, but they did come.

Three-quarters of the way through year three the sales shark was trying to win a competition for the most number of shell horns sold in one in one year. He needed sales and as he drove through the town of the father fish, he was reminded of all the letters.  He pulled up the driveway with the overgrowth still present. As the shark knocked on the beat-up front door he made the decision that he was going to do the father fish a favor. 

He sold the father fish the shell horn on a note of $10.00 per month until it was paid in full. Each month for 10 years the shark’s company received the $10.00 payment but not one penny more or less. 

It was some time later the shark was at the local coffee house where all the other sales sharks hung out, in the evenings. He was sitting at the bar getting his usual seaweed smoothie when he heard the most beautiful music. 

He looked up on stage. The first thing he noticed was a distinctive purple shell horn. Up on stage playing the purple shell horn was starfish, all grown up. 

Moral: Having authority is dangerous and may be worse than having influence. The shark had all of the authority in the story and the father fish had all the influence.  If you’re exercising your authority are you really leading others?

The Big Misconception #2: Leaders have to have followers to lead. 

Follower is defined as an adherent or devotee of a particular person, cause, or activity. A follower is like the light from a lamp. Leaders are more like lamps. The lamp emits the light. I have spent my career studying leaders. Most people, when asked, believe that leaders attract followers because they are leaders. Let’s remove the word follower to describe what happens when leadership is displayed. Let’s look at each person as a business for one second. If a business is a leader does that mean that other businesses follow that business? Each business is fighting for a specific niche. Each business is striving to lead. Strong leaders conduct their work with people. People are influenced by communication. 

This communication like light is the frequency emitted by the leader. When a leader is leading people are living out the actions recommended by the leaders. Everyone has the choice to make decisions for themselves unless they are being controlled. They can dim the light on the leader or they can intensify the light. 

Leaders can gain specific outcomes without followers. You will hear in sports that a certain player is leading the team’s batting average, or a runner is leading the race, or a leader spoke to 10,000 people. This would imply that everyone else is a follower or is following. 

People often confuse the word follower, they often mean fan. Leaders do not need followers. Leaders gain attention among others by taking more successful actions towards a mutual value-goal. There are a lot of books that have been written about servant leaders and how they gain followers. Remember a fan is not a follower. 



The Big Misconception #3: Leaders have to be a servant to others to lead. 

Servant is defined as a person who performs duties for others. Leaders must be passionate about their cause or mission. If you as a leader perform duties for others you will be modeling the behavior of an enabling mother. To do something for anyone else but your own value-goals is not leadership. 

Would Coke do something for Pepsi? Yet coke is the leader. Without a long explanation going into how there is not really altruism, just follow the logic in this example. Most servant leadership comes from the example of Jesus, and while I agree Jesus was a leader I disagree with the servant leadership gurus. 

Jesus, in the famous story of washing his disciple’s feet, was providing an example to others at that time that washing other's feet was not beneath him. He was as willing to do the work, which others would consider as a servant’s job. He knew that others would need this example to know that every person is important. This accomplished his goal and helped to spread his mission.  

The keyword in the definition that rejects the need to be a servant is the words “for others.” When a leader is unwilling to do the scope of work they define “for others” it costs a leader influence. Leaders have an invisible charisma that comes from the conviction of their values. Inconsistencies between what you ask others to do and your personal values become repellent and removes the leader’s credibility. 

The word servant has such a negative connotation. The word servant rings right up there with the word slave. Except servants demonstrate a willingness to do the work demanded.  More managers look at their employees like they are servants, and they justify the servant in their mind because they are willing to do the same work as the servant like Jesus, but I would say that if you look at each employee as a servant and yourself as a servant leader you are not truly a leader. 

Employees are not servants, they are leaders. You should not do work for your employees to be a servant leader. You should do work with your team members. You should not serve them and they should not serve you. 

Authority, followers, and servant are words that are consistently misleading horizontal leaders. While I am not one who has an issue with power, or authority, I am just one who understands that it is not leadership. Followers and servants put the leader and the team down. It is important to understand leadership to have a large impact in this world. Adam Smith, a leader in capitalism, in 1776 wrote about capitalism in his book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Smith states that within a stable system of commerce and evaluation, individuals would respond to the incentive of earning more through specialization. The industry leaders lead by specialization.  

Your value goals are an important step in being a leader. You have to know what you are after and why you are after it. You should be the example of your expectations to those around you. Value-Goals are as important in your personal life as they are to your career. Value-Goals are a foundational model horizontal leaders understand that gets the results they strive for.


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Nathan is the Founder and President of Priority Investing, LLC which manages brands for The Coin System(TM), Launch Masters International, and www.NathanBushMBA.com . Nathan holds an MBA with an emphasis in accounting from Keller Graduate School of Management and a B.A in Nonprofit Management from Lindenwood University.  In addition to his degrees, he holds a Missouri real estate license and a National Apartment Leasing Professional (NALP) certification. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Senior Service Resource which is a nonprofit organization that serves to provide resources to senior citizens.. Lastly, Nathan wrote the book Leadership Coaching as a Strategy for Employee Development and has been a guest speaker and facilitator at national conferences on the topics of leadership.


For More information: www.nathanbushmba.com

 

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