Heavy is the Head


I cannot get the letter “P” out of my mind.  It has been bouncing around for months, and it continues to expand.  More specifically, the letter “P” has formed an alliteration associated with words that describe my thinking about leadership.  I have tried to figure out where it came from and for a time I thought it might have been tied to my mother’s reminder to “watch my ‘Ps’ and ‘Qs’” when in public.

But that is not it…It is more specific than that.  Perhaps my mind is drawn to the art of alliteration, and I am stuck on words with the letter P.  While “Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Pepper” has a ring to it, my words are different.  The more I search, the more I find significance in the words and their tie to leadership. 

The first word is Privilege

Leaders have privilege.  It is not that they should be treated with higher privilege.  They have a privileged perspective on what is going on around them.  They have a vantage point that provides a better view of the action.  Consider the Captain of a ship.  They sit on the Bridge and survey they horizon as they guide the ship through the sea.  The CEO receives financial, operational, and competitive updates as they work through the strategy and execution of the business plan.  The shop foreman works hand-in-hand with their team as they make process improvements on a daily basis.  It is not difficult to understand how a person in leadership has a unique and privileged perspective on what is happening around them. 

Privilege in this context is easy to understand.  However, that is not the “privilege” that comes to mind when I think about leadership.  Leaders have the unique privilege to influence the behaviors and actions of other people.  We all have it, but do we appreciate what that means?  Whether you are leading a church, a brigade, a workforce, or your children, having the ability to influence another’s actions is an incredible privilege.  Embracing that privilege will change the way you lead.

The second word is Pleasure

Authentic leadership should be accompanied by a sense of pleasure: the pleasure to work with others in a way that adds value to them, to the organization, and the greater mission.  Good leaders tend to associate the privilege to work with others with a sense of joy.  My mentor, Tom Kemp, used to describe the way he would wake up excited to go into the office.  He would specifically tie that excitement to the opportunity to add value to his team as they worked towards a common goal.

The pleasure and joy described here come from a place of true humility.  A place where those you lead are the highest priority, even higher priority than the mission itself.  An understanding that your ability to add value to them will ultimately make EVERYTHING and EVERYONE better.  It is in that place of humility and submission to others where leaders find pleasure.

The third word is Perseverance

Shakespeare said, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”  You may have heard it said, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”  Leadership is not easy, and it rarely allows for the 9 to 5 workday.  Leaders know the stakes, and the “buck stops with them.”  They carry the burden of making their team and the organization successful.  It keeps them up at night and can consume a lot of energy and even passion.  There is no getting around the mental and emotional challenges that come with leadership.  After all, it is a tremendous responsibility to influence another person’s actions. 

It is when a leader is fueled and refueled by an appreciation of their privilege and the pleasure they take in pouring energy into making someone else successful.  Adding value to another person’s professional and personal life is the reward that trumps the weight of the crown.

The last P is for Preference

Leaders prefer to wear the heavy crown, to stand in the gap where the buck stops, and to play their role in developing others.  They are happy to stay out of the light so the light can shine brightly on their team.  The mere reflection of that light is plenty for them.  It is their appreciation of the real meaning of privilege and the pleasure derived from developing others that stirs their sense of preference. 

John Maxwell wrote, “Leadership is not a position, it is a state of mind.”  My challenge as a leader is to maintain a state of mind that embodies the four Ps.  My challenge to you is to recognize your true Privilege.  Take Pleasure and find joy in the opportunity to add value to another’s life.  Dig in and Persevere when things are tough.  Finally, wake up every day with a Preference to be there.

Leading From Within

The definition of leadership is quite simply, “to influence the behavior of another person.”  Notice the definition does not refer to a title, position, education, or formal authority over another person.  It is merely the ability to influence.  The literal definition is particularly important to understand for a discussion about leading when you are not in a “position” of leadership.  John Maxwell writes, “Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit. Anyone can choose to become a leader wherever he or she is. You can make a difference no matter where you are.”  In fact, the most effective leadership comes from the middle of the organization.  That place where you have highly talented team members that are close to the action and can lead based on their privileged perspective and first-hand expertise.

The idea of leading from below runs counter to the conventional understanding that leadership is positional.  While there is nothing wrong with positional leadership, good leaders realize the power of those leading from below.  No competent CEO or President has ever said, “I have too many leaders.”  They see the value of developing leaders and empowering them to lead from where they are in the organization.  It can even be seen as an informal succession planning process, as great leaders emphasize developing leaders from within the group and create opportunities for them to grow.

Team members that aspire to leadership positions must be careful not to squander their ability to have a real impact by leading from where they are today.   I’ve mentioned a leader’s obligation to be a lifelong learner.  Consider the idea of leading from below a part of the learning process.  Refining your skills and techniques as a leader can prepare you to become more effective as you grow into more positional leadership roles.

Keys to understanding power and influence

We are all created in the image of God, and that means we are endowed with traits and characteristics that come from our Father.  This includes leadership.  Some may have been given the gift of leadership in different measure than others but we all have it and we are are all in a position to lead or influence (someone).  A high IQ, EQ, and general charisma can play into a leader’s effectiveness.  But, an understanding of human behavior and how power and influence work is helpful as we develop our leadership techniques, regardless of where we sit on the organization chart.

There are five widely accepted sources of power and influence.  Positional, Coercive, Reward, Expert, and Referent. 

·       Positional power is the influence that comes from the more traditional and hierarchical structure within the organization.  “The buck stops” with those who have positional or “legitimate power.”  People with positional power assign duties and direct activities for their team.  It is important for a person who holds a position of power to have earned it legitimately.  Positional power can be problematic if the person does not have the respect of their team.

·       Coercive power is the ability to influence behavior through threats, punishments, or sanctions.  This type of power can serve to keep performance within the standard framework created to maintain acceptable standards and drive desired behaviors.

·       Reward power is the ability to influence behavior through incentives.  Bonuses, compensation, and other benefits.

·       Referent power is the more relational type of influence.  The ability to garner the respect of your peers through genuine relationship building.  With relationships, comes comradery, trust, and influence.

·       Expert power draws on an individual’s ability to establish a high level of expertise in a particular area.  This expertise adds credibility to their voice and ability to influence others in the desired direction.

The five sources are all unique and can be effective, and it is helpful to understand the good and bad of each source.  Much like you learned about your strengths, these sources of power have a “shadow” side.  Understanding their shadow traits and using them in combination proves to be a very effective model.

The goal of understanding these sources is to create a plan of how to use the ones you control.  Some might be out of our control, and that is okay.  You will find those sources are not entirely necessary to have an impact.


Ask yourself these questions:

1.     What source or combination of sources of power are most effective?

2.     Can you pick out examples of the uses of power that had a positive and/or a negative effect on an organization?

3.     How do you lead up and still work within the vision set by senior leadership?

4.     What does a plan to lead from within look like for you?

a.     Baby steps?  What three things can you do to put yourself in a position to influence others and have an impact on the mission?

Evaluate the Past or Coach for the Future?

What if we turned the world of annual reviews upside down?  What if we admitted the variables and biases involved in one human rating another is not an effective means of performance management?

The research is in, and it is conclusive.  People are not capable of rating people!  Michael Mount, Steven Scullen, and Maynard Goff conducted the research and published it in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2000. Their study—in which 4,492 managers were rated on certain performance dimensions by two bosses, two peers, and two subordinates—revealed that 62% of the variance in the ratings could be accounted for by individual raters’ peculiarities of perception. Actual performance accounted for only 21% of the variance. 

Let’s break this down into a real-world example.  Rating a team member on critical thinking is more about my critical thinking, the value I place on critical thinking, my thoughts on what critical thinking is, and how tough a rater I am.  It is more about me than it is the team member. 

You have to stop and ask, “Why am I doing this?  Is it adding value”  Is it strengthening the team member?  Is it going to improve performance?”  NO!  It is a perfunctory system that is biased and produces few results.  In fact, it might have a paradoxical effect.  Tieing compensation to an arbitrary and biased process of rating an employee could have a negative impact on morale?  Consider the effect of receiving a glowing review from one manager who leans towards a more generous rating and the next year receiving a critical review from a different manager that is bent on a stronger rating curve.  Did the employee’s performance decline or did they just get hammered by the inherently biased performance evaluation process?

What are we honestly hoping to achieve?  What if we flipped the process on its ear and made it about performance management?  And by “management,” I mean improvement.  What if we replaced the word “review” with “coach”?

The idea of coaching changes the mindset.  We are no longer looking at the past but focus our efforts on the present and the future.  It allows us to be agile and responsive.  It converts leaders and managers into coaches.  It binds everyone together.

Critical elements to success

Leaders must focus on the following:  (This must be at the core of your leadership philosophy)

  • Hire great – Leaders should always hire up. 
  • Equip each team member – Great team members will come with a toolbox of skills.  It is a leader’s job to ensure they are properly equipped for the current mission.
  • Cast an inspiring vision – If you can’t articulate what inspires you, you cannot inspire others.
  • Empower – You must empower each team member to execute based on their role and skillset.
  • Remove barriers – Your primary job now becomes that of a coach.  Your job is to remove barriers and help each team member succeed.

3 Tips for effective coaching

  1. Meet regularly and meet with purpose – Meeting with your team member allows you to discover barriers, strategizing solutions, inspire progress, and empower them to focus on the future.
  2. Review projects – Real-time reviews of project-based performance allows you to coach and correct within the context of real-time experiences.  The purpose is to provide relevant feedback at the moment, so it becomes actionable.  A vague and nonspecific critique over 12 months is tough for anyone to wrap their mind around.  Even the best managers and leaders are left to generalize when trying to encapsulate 2,080 hours of work.
  3. Set Goals that align with the mission – Each meeting and each project review gives you an opportunity to recast the vision, reset expectations, ensure alignment, and (re)empower the team member to be successful.

There is something inherently positive and inspiring about a process focused on the future rather than a fuzzy and generalized review of the past.