What Is A Leader, Really?

In a world dominated by prescriptions and pithy sayings about how to be a good leader, sometimes you only need to act to be a leader.


What is a good model of leadership?  Quick, tell me. Strengths based? Fear based? Skill based? Self leadership? Team leadership?  Enterprise leadership? Level 5 leadership?

I’m reminded today that sometimes, the key to leadership is not to find your leadership “model” but instead to simply practice leadership. In other words, I can describe to you what a level 5 leader is, but I can’t really teach you how to become one; you have to act on that yourself.

For the record, “level 5 leaders” come in a few different flavors.  I’ve always been partial to the John Maxwell definition:  People follow you because of who you are and what you represent.

After countless discussions with hundreds of people in management, rank and file, and executive roles, I can boil leadership down to one thing:  Action.  Leaders take action.  Now, they might take action to prevent someone else from making a mistake, but such an action is still action. Sales leaders find ways to sell. HR leaders find ways to enable organizational effectiveness. Research leaders drive action toward breakthroughs.  Action is the common thread.

But what often passes for action is actually position.  Calling a meeting is certainly an action, but it isn’t capital “A” Action; it’s merely an act of position or power.  Leadership, like the prime mover on a locomotive, is about action that compels others to action.

So what brings this to mind?

For years, I have been fascinated by a couple of guys who call themselves Team Hoyt.  Dick and Rick Hoyt have completed more than 1,100 endurance races together since 1977, including dozens of marathons and 6 Ironman distance triathlons.

The catch?

Rick is a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy and Dick is his dad.   One day, Rick told his dad that he wanted to run a race, and Dick obliged, pushing Rick for 5 miles to come in second to last.  Rick told Dick he enjoyed racing, and the rest is history. Here is your link, see for yourself.

What model of leadership do Dick and Rick Hoyt represent?  I’d argue it’s one of action.  Personally, and as a father, I get breathless watching this father’s dedication to his son’s enjoyment.

Dick took Rick’s motivation and made it his own.  He became the engine for decades of amazing feats.  He is the model of action that I think many leaders miss out on, carrying someone less capable but feeding off of the act of service and the enjoyment it brings.

In our own lives, we may read all the books we want on leadership and take all the advice we can get on the topic, and I’m all for that. But we may also make all the excuses possible about how our team wasn’t skilled enough or we missed out on the right hire. We might also just be frustrated with our organizations, but none of that will get you anywhere.

We talk about servant leaders, but we rarely talk about servant competitors.  Dick Hoyt is one, and you and I can be, too. Just find the inspiration you can find, and use it to put yourself in action.

2 replies
  1. Chris Goodenough
    Chris Goodenough says:

    Taking ‘true Action’ is based upon our courage to follow our non-negotiable principles. As you so aptly stated from John Maxwell.

    People follow you for who you are and what you represent

    The pure dedication and devout belief shown by Dick Hoyt is based on his fundamental principle of ‘competing with passion and Love’. His behaviour constantly reinforces this principle with ‘True Actions’.

    Thank You for constantly challenging our thought processes.

    • Geoff Wilson
      Geoff Wilson says:

      Great to have your comment. I think you capture the spirit with your comment on “true” action. True action is focused on achievement, not appearing to achieve. Thanks for dropping by. GW


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