Leadership Wisdom of the Cheshire Cat

A student in one of my Leader Development Program sessions was grappling with his role as a leader in his organization. He felt that he had never sought out a leadership role, and wasn’t sure that it was something that he really wanted to do.
He was fascinated by Nelson Mandela’s concept of “Lead from the Back,” and suggested that what he really wanted to do was simply help people to be the best that they could be.  If he accomplished that, even if only for some of the people in his organization, then he could feel good about what he had done as a leader. He went on to say that “Leadership is only a word; it is the impact that you have on others that is what really matters.”
I think he’s partly right, but largely missing the point.  For me, leadership is more than just a word.  It is, perhaps more than anything, a state of mind.  It is a communal activity — no one talks about the great leadership abilities of hermits. Most importantly, leadership implies directionality.

Recall the encounter between Alice and the Cheshire Cat, as related by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:
“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?,” asked Alice.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
Whether you lead from the front, the back, or the middle, as a leader you are setting the direction for yourself and those who follow you  — be it your business, your team, your neighborhood association, or any other group you are a part of.  If you hope to be successful as a leader, you have to help answer the question: “Where are we going?”

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    1. Absolutely. But intentional action implies a well-considered intent. To What End is all of the activity taking place? How can I make choices about resource utilization, or perhaps more on point, resource allocation, without a very clear idea about the purposes being served?

  1. I understand that one needs a direction to move towards and if the individual or group you are “Working” with sees value in that they will follow. I am not sure that true leaders set out to be Leaders or to Lead, rather they simply do the right things and if those things resonate then they will attract followers. I don’t think I decided one day to be a Leader, I think it just happened as a result of my actions. I still beleive that doing the right things and caring about people and exposing people to opportuites is kind of like a silent Leader. There is no doubt I would love to have a following; who wouldn’t. I simple try everyday to help people achieve their dreams and in return I get great satisfaction in watching them in their success. A Great Leader, Chip Roach, once told me that the true sign of a Great Leader is one who can bask in the shadow of someone else’s limelight knowing they had a contributed a small piece to that persons success. Look for me in the Pack of Winners. I will be the one in the rear smiling, being quiet and simply enjoying seeing their success!

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