Great leaders show up

Show up. Great leaders understand the significance of just showing up. You can’t take care of your people if you aren’t with your people and that often means leaving the comforts of an elevated life and joining the dirty work in the trenches. I believe at the heart of great leadership you will find this single consistent trait; a true desire to take care of your people. I believe it is the heartbeat, the life-blood of authentic leadership. But how can you take care of your people if you don’t show up?

I was reminded tonight of a quote that I heard  Rourke Denver share many years ago. When I first heard this quote I was speechless and I could physically feel my heart swelling beneath my chest. Years later it still has the same effect on me. Here it is:

“A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them…A king does not expend his substance to enslave men, but by his conduct and example makes them free.” Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire

I was so moved by this statement because this is leadership. A person of influence choosing to serve with their people. It renders me nearly speechless tonight as my mind begins to spin with the thought “what if the world were full of leaders like this“? What if leaders showed-up in the trenches? What if when life got difficult and you were taking fire from all directions you knew the one person you could count on would be your leader? What if your leader joined you in the battle as a fellow solider rather than as a sniper attacking you from a distance? What if when you were under fire your leader joined you in your foxhole, grabbed you by the shoulders and said: “we are going to get through this”?  What if leaders showed up?

This concept of leadership does not allow room for micromanagement from a distance but rather leadership by serving with your people. When you are side by side with your people you empower them with everything they need to win whatever battles you are facing together because your success and survival as a leader depends on the success and survival of your people. When great leaders show up they lead beyond themselves and their followers then live beyond themselves and this creates a culture where the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

In a day and age when numbers seem to be everything, I want to clearly state that for great leaders numbers are secondary to people. Great leaders will sacrifice the numbers to save their people, in fact, great leaders will sacrifice themselves to save their people. Great leaders will downsize their office space, take a pay cut, take a budget cut, go without a salary, give away their vacation days, pass on the company car or the country club membership to save their people.

If you consider yourself a leader I challenge you to wrestle with these questions; when was the last time you were in the trenches, bloodied and bruised with your people? When was the last time you led your people through a difficult time but you did it from the front, the first to take fire knowing that you cared for your people so much that you wouldn’t dare ask them to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself? When was the last time you sacrificed yourself and your status for the safety and success of your people?

If you struggle to answer these questions then it might be time for you to step aside and create some space for a true leader to show up because great leaders take care of their people.