Want to recognize leadership?

What is leadership? Most people can’t describe it, but do know what it is when they see it. I, however, believe in it, almost as fervently as if were a religion. I’ve offered this definition of leadership to whomever asks for it (and even to those who don’t ask for it): Leadership is the contextually appropriate social distribution of power. The question, though, is, “how does this definition actually work?”

Well, when I think about how leadership works, through the lens of my definition, a story about a man and his 3 sons comes to my mind: A man had 3 sons, all of whom were handsome and intelligent. The man wanted his sons to take over his business as a team, but the sons were always arguing about who was the smartest and best choice to be the boss of the company. Their fighting go so bad that the man began to have second (and even third) thoughts about his plan to leave his company in their hands.

In a last ditch effort to organize his sons into a unit, the man found a bundle of sticks that were so tightly bound, they formed a solid piece of wood and called each of his sons, individually, into his office. “Whichever of you can break the bundle will be the boss,” the man explained. One by one, he asked the sons to break the bundle of sticks over their leg and, one by one, each one failed. The man then called the sons into his office, unbundled the sticks and handed each son one of the sticks. He then again asked them to break the sticks over their legs and the sticks broke with ease.

“You see,” the man said. “When the sticks were bound together as a single unit, they were unbreakable, but individually, the sticks were easy to break. If the three of you could come together, you would also be unbreakable, but individually, you are easy to break through your arrogance and vanity.”

To me, the man was being a leader because he had a vision for his sons and then made it a point to call them all together and actually show them that they would be stronger together than apart. He was basically saying that when power is distributed and shared equally, any vision can be achieved. But it took the man’s leadership to demonstrate the point.

So then, if you want to recognize leadership, think of the man and his sons and how he created a vision and showed how distributed and shared power leads to more effective results.


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