We live in a world that is in transition.

One of the most significant transitions that we are experiencing is in the nature of leadership.

It used to be that leadership was reserved for the person who was the head of an organization. We knew who the leader was because he or she had a title that defined their role as the leader of the organization.

Since there are only a few leaders, it means everyone else is a follower.

The Relationship between Leaders and Followers is Changing

The relation between leading and following is in transition.

It once was true that great leaders had great followers. However, over time, as the world has changed, we are far more aware of what our leaders are really like. The issue for the follower is ‘Do I trust the leader?’. For leaders, the question is ‘Do I respect the follower?’.

As the practice and theory of leadership grew over the past half-century a pattern of leadership as a cult-of-personality also grew. A list of organizations, churches, and nations where leaders have exploited their position for personal gain would be quite long. The result is that followers become more skeptical about their leaders. They have higher expectations.

The other side of the relationship sees how leaders respect their followers less and less. Is this because it is more difficult to have a personal relationship with their followers out of which respect and trust can be created? Or, has the practice of leadership transitioned to be less about leading people and more about the leader’s position of privilege and power as the head of the organization? If so, then is it time for us to step back and look at what leadership must be for our future.

When followers feel that their leaders do not respect them, then they have less reason to invest in the company or the church or the community. They may put their time in, do what is required of them, then, at the end of the day, go home to focus on their personal interests.

In many respects, the relationship between leaders and followers has been deteriorating for a long time. The keyword here is ‘relationship’. If there is none, then how can trust and respect be present between leaders and followers. It is a question that will define the future of organizations and societies in the 21st century.

The World, both Global and Local, is Changing
The worlds where we live, work, travel, and share our lives are changing. The boundaries between a global world and our local communities are thinning. It creates both conflict and opportunities.

In the first instance, our world has become more complex. Nothing is as simple as it was in our grandparents’ time. We are more closely connected than at any time in human history. With the touch of a button, we can talk to anyone anywhere through the advancements in communication technology. A result is that we are now overwhelmed with information, opinion, and emotionally charged images. All that stimulation comes with the expectation that we respond to it. We are asked to decide who we are, what we stand for and how our lives matter with each tweet and status update. With thousands of millions of messages calling upon us to choose, it is easy to see how our connectedness becomes the tyranny of the loudest voice. It is exhausting! How then do we choose whom to follow, listen to or join in a cause? In this complex mix of the global and the local, how do we know who we are?

Add to this situation that we now have technology in our hands that is a more powerful means of communication and collaboration than at any time in human history. It isn’t just that we can receive information. It is also that we can send it. We can share it. We can tell our stories. In doing so, we might just find that we have a voice of influence in a world seeking meaning.

The opportunity is that through our phones, we can be in touch with people who have experienced precisely what we have, yet living a half a world away. We can learn from them. They can learn from us. And together we can create new ways to solve the problems that our families, our communities and ourselves face. This simple advancement in human potential is the antidote to the complexity that the global systems of the world have created.

Circle of Impact: The Leadership that Empowers
If the leadership by title is in transition, what is it transitioning towards? This 20th-century perspective was always a narrow and inadequate one. Even when the literature addressed the individual as leader, it was always as a person functioning within an organizational structure.

A new perspective on leadership for the 21st century is needed. This view should recognize and therefore elevate the simple acts of individual service and creativity as essential for the health and welfare of communities all over the world. It could show that top-down leadership is beginning to be eclipsed by bottom-up, grassroots leadership.

The perspective sees that ‘all leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters’. Regardless of who you are, where you are from, what your education level, your economic status or place within the social structure of your family and community, you can function as a leader by taking personal initiative. You can do so at home, at work, in your community and online. The only limits are those which require that we actually do things that make a difference.

The key to understanding this perspective is a model of leadership called the Circle of Impact. It encompasses three aspects that every person, organization, and community experiences. Three dimensions form this model. The dimensions of ideas, relationships, and structure work as a system for understanding how the world works.
Think of each dimension in simple terms.

  • The Ideas dimension consists of all concepts that we form in our minds and express through the language of speech and writing.
  • Relationships are all those people that we have regular communication and interaction with at home or at work.
  • The structure dimension is how organizations and communities are structured to achieve their goals.

The three dimensions are joined together by four connecting ideas which are:

  • Our values that connect to our purpose to our relationships with one another.
  • Our purpose which defines our intention for our lives and connects us to the structure that is needed to fulfill our purpose.
  • Our vision which identifies how our values and purpose are used by our relationships with one another through an organizational structure to create impact.
  • Our Impact is the change that makes a difference that matters. It is the gathering center of the model. All parts are focused and derive that ultimate purpose from the impact that we desire to create.

Therefore, we should ask:

  • What is the Impact of my Ideas?
  • What is the Impact of my Relationships?
  • What is the Impact of the Structures where I live and work?

We can also ask:

  • What are my values for impact?
  • What is my purpose for impact?
  • What is our vision for impact?

Each question brings us to a point of seeing some meaningful change that comes from the personal initiative that we take.

True empowerment, then, is when we are functioning as persons of impact. To be empowered means that we can solve problems that we once could not. We can communicate effectively with people we once could not. We can see new ways to make a difference through the structure of our work. And we can see how all our No’s can be Yes’s that affirm the values that make a difference that matters in our lives.

Being a Person of Impact
There is a secret to the Circle of Impact that you are free to share.

It is this simple truth.

Everyone already knows how to be a person of impact.

Everyone already acts intentionally to make a difference that matters. When we buy a gift for a loved one. We are taking initiative to make a difference that matters. When we stay after work to help a co-worker prepare for the next morning’s meeting, we are making a difference that matters. When we give constructive advice to a friend about their behavior. We are making a difference that matters in their life.

The first step of all leadership is personal initiative. Doing something that makes a difference in someone’s life is having an impact. Taking initiative is always the first step. No initiative … no leadership.

There is no becoming a leader. You are a leader because you take personal initiative. Or you are not because you didn’t. This is how we grow in empowerment. One step, one initiative, one impact at a time, over time. Believe that you can be this person. Do this together, and together, you will restore the proper relationship of leader and follower as function of who we are people born to create impact.

Dr. Ed Brenegar is a Leader for Leaders working with individuals, their teams, organizations and communities who find themselves at a point of transition. Ed has developed an innovative leadership model called, Circle of Impact, that clarifies what the impact of their life or the work of their organization can be. From this perspective, impact is the change that makes a difference that matters. Ed. for over 30 years, has inspired and equipped people and organizations to practice this fresh understanding of leadership. All leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters. Everyone within an organization or a community can, therefore, practice leadership initiative. In so doing, they turn what were once leadership-starved organizations into leader-rich cultures that make a difference that matters.

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