I have been asked to share with you today some ideas on the topic of Leadership in Rotary. The interest in this particular topic seems to be inexhaustible among Rotarians. From the time we are admitted as members of Rotary, we are constantly reminded that one of the reasons we were invited to join this great organization – this unique movement – is because we are all presumed to be leaders.
As Rotarians take on positions of responsibility in our club and the district, we routinely undergo training and learning sessions that are supposed to prepare us for the tasks at hand. How to succeed as a leader is part and parcel of our preparation for every Rotary assignment, be it club administration, effective service projects, public image, the Rotary Foundation, and what have you.
One of my favorite statements on leadership is the one that says that “Leadership is, first and foremost, a matter of character.” It is about being who you are to the members of your team or to your followers. It is not so much about the things that you are able to do or accomplish. It is about who they see you to be and the impact of your overall persona on them.
The statement goes on to say that “A (true) leader is one who is in power but not subordinate to it, one who has control of money but is not lured by it, one whose position opens all doors but prefers the simplicity of lifestyle, and one who is followed by many but takes the heart of a servant.”
I have reflected on this quotation many times. To me, it is a concise description of the brand of leadership that Rotary’s Ideal of Service encourages and fosters. It is also being increasingly referred to in recent years as a form of servant leadership.
On this point, let me share a clever acronym devised by the author Ben Blanchard. The acronym is made from a word that is dear to the hearts of all Rotarians and enjoys pre-eminence in the vocabulary of Rotary. It is the word SERVE.
In this acronym, the letter S stands for SEE THE FUTURE. As leader, you create a compelling vision for the members of your team and all your club members, a vision of what lies ahead in their year of service with you at the helm. You package it and express it in a way that will excite them and make them feel they are losing or missing something by not being involved.
The second letter, and the first E, in the acronym stands for ENGAGE OTHERS AND DEVELOP THEM. As leader, you make sure that the right people are given the right roles. You offer assignments and duties that bring out the best in each of your members, by matching their unique competence, interest and passion with the tasks at hand. You are a really successful leader when you create or pave the way for a better successor or at least one who is equal to you.
The third letter is R and it stands for REINVENT YOURSELF CONTINUOUSLY. Leaders must realize that if they stop learning, they stop leading, too. I know that Rotary presidents, for instance, go through Pre-PETS several times, attend the PETS, the DISTAS, and several other seminars and conferences that are usually offered by the district through the Rotary Academy or the Rotary Leadership Institute.
More important than all these structured learning opportunities, however, is your own personal attitude to continuous learning. A true leader makes continuous learning a daily habit.
The fourth letter is V and it stands for VALUE RESULTS AND RELATIONSHIPS. Great leaders recognize that you must value both – results as well as relationships. You must be able to show your members that you understand the meaning and the discipline of clear goals and sustained accomplishments. But, more importantly, you must let them see and feel that you treasure your personal relationship with each of them and their own relationships with one another. As a leader, you must strive to have not only good IQ, but also high EQ.
The fifth and last letter in the acronym is a second E, which stands for EMBODY THE VALUES. You must walk your talk. You must constantly strive to be the living embodiment of the values that you preach, particularly the Rotary values of Service, Integrity, Fellowship, Diversity, and Leadership. Genuine leadership is built on trust. And trust is born when they see you living out the values that they hold dear. It is very difficult for members to follow a leader they cannot trust.
So, there you have it – an acronym that I hope you will find worth remembering and reflecting on, every chance you get.
S, for See the Future.
E, for Engage Others and Develop Them.
R, for Reinvent Yourself Continuously.
V, for Value Results and Relationships.
E, for Embody the Values.
One young Rotary leader once asked me: What is the Essence of Leadership? Let me tell you what I told him and if you disagree, please enlighten me. I began by telling him what I think leadership is not.
Leadership is not just a set of tools or techniques. It is a way of life — your life. Leadership springs from within. It’s about who I am as much as what I do.
Leadership is not a job; it is not a role you play at work or in Rotary, which you then put aside when you think it is time for you to relax, unwind & enjoy your real life.
Leadership is the leader’s real life.
Techniques in leadership – such as, how to form a team, how to spellbind and mesmerize your team, how to set long-term goals, how to establish objectives & get your members to buy-in – all these techniques can help amplify the vision of where you wish to lead your team. But those techniques can never substitute for the real Vision that will excite, motivate, and transform them.
They get to fully understand the Vision when they see it embodied in you. The vision becomes alive in who you are to them, not necessarily in the many things that you are able to do or accomplish.
One inspirational writer has observed that there is a big difference between DOING and BEING. What we want to do is not nearly as important as what we want to be. Doing is usually connected with one’s career or business or profession, with how we run an organization or with how we make a living. Being is much deeper. It relates to character, who we are and how we live our life. Doing is tied in closely with activities, accomplishments and tangible things – like salary, prestige, involvements, titles or roles, and trophies or plaques. Being, on the other hand, has more to do with the intangibles, the kind of people we truly are deep down inside, much of which can’t be measured by objective yardsticks and impressive awards, but which shines forth in the way we speak or act towards our fellow human beings. Of the two, being will ultimately outdistance doing every time. It may take at least half a lifetime to perfect, but, hands down, it’s far more valuable. And lasting. And inspiring.
A real leader has a clear idea of which must come first between doing and being. To the true leader, becoming a leader is a continuing process of self-development.
The popular guru on Leadership, John Maxwell, has written a book entitled “The Right To Lead”. In it, he asks the question: What gives a man or woman the right to lead?
Is it by election? Is it by appointment? Maxwell himself answers his own questions. He says that having a position, title, rank, or academic degrees doesn’t qualify anyone to lead other people. Neither does the ability come automatically from age or experience. Why? Because, he says, no one can be given the right to lead. The right to lead can only be earned. And that takes time.
The key to becoming an effective leader is not to focus on making other people follow you, but on making yourself the kind of person they want to follow. You must become someone others can trust to take them where they want to go.
Maxwell offers some guidelines for preparing oneself to become a better leader. Consider the following ideas:
- Let go of your ego.
The truly great leaders are not in leadership for personal gain. They lead in order to serve other people. Perhaps that is why Lawrence D. Bell remarked, “Show me a man who cannot bother to do little things, and I’ll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things.”
- Become a good follower first.
Rare is the effective leader who didn’t learn to become a good follower first. That is why a leadership institution such as the United States Military Academy teaches its officers to become effective followers first – and why West Point has produced more leaders than the Harvard Business School.
- Build positive relationships.
Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. That means it is by nature relational. Today’s generation of leaders seem particularly aware of this because title and position mean so little to them. They know intuitively that people go along with people they get along with.
- Work with excellence.
No one respects and follows mediocrity. Leaders who earn the right to lead give their all to what they do. They bring into play not only their skills and talents, but also great passion and hard work. They perform on the highest level of which they are capable.
- Rely on discipline, not emotion.
Leadership is often easy during the good times. It’s when everything seems to be against you – when you’re out of energy, and you don’t feel like leading – that you earn your place as a leader. During every season of life, leaders face crucial moments when they must choose between gearing up or giving up. To make it through those times, rely on the rock of discipline, not the shifting sand of emotion.
On this point, we recall the poignant words written in the 1960s by former United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarksjold. He had just come from an emotionally draining marathon negotiation with cold war protagonists who had proven to be stubborn, unreasonable, and unyielding. To console himself, Mr. Hammarksjold found himself writing thus in his diary:
“When the morning’s freshness has been replaced by the weariness of midday, when the leg muscles quiver under the strain, and the climb seems endless, and suddenly, nothing will go quite as you wish, it is then that you must not hesitate.”
True leaders will not waver. They push on relentlessly towards the goal.
- Make adding value your goal.
When you look at the leaders whose names are revered long after they have finished leading, you find that they were men and women who helped people to live better lives and reach their potential. They added value to the lives of others. That is the highest calling of leadership – and also its highest value.
In our own lifetime, we are able to identify this type of leaders in statesmen like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Nelson Mandela of South Africa; like Bill Gates of Microsoft or Lee Iaccocca of Chrysler Corporation or Jack Welch of General Electric; like Don Jaime Zobel of Ayala Corporation, Henry Sy, Sr. of the SM Group of Companies, Big John Gokongwei of the JG Summit Group, Ramon del Rosario Sr. of the Phinma Group, and so on.
I am sure you can name other great leaders of this mold that you have personally encountered in your place of work or your community.
Closer to home in Rotary, all incumbent leaders are reminded that it is their primordial responsibility to assist in preparing the next set of leaders for our districts and our clubs to be the best kind of leaders they can possibly be.
- Give your power away.
One of the ironies of leadership is that you become a better leader by sharing whatever power you have, not by saving it all for yourself. You are meant to be a river, not a reservoir. If you use your power to empower others, your leadership will extend far beyond your grasp.
It is not only in government or the church or industry that we hear from and read about people who have done these same things and thus earned the right to lead others.
In Rotary, we know some of these people. Some of them are our friends. Without posturing, without affectation, their dedication, passion and generosity for service above self come through. They stand out effortlessly as persons of character and integrity. We clearly recognize these admirable qualities. And so, without being compelled, we spontaneously follow.
The followers who looked to these leaders learned from them, and so can we. As we explore their worlds and their words, remember that it takes time to become worthy of being followed by others. Leadership isn’t learned or earned in a moment.
I would like to sum up by recalling to you the words of then RI President-Elect John Kenny when he asked the Rotary governors-elect in training at the International Assembly in San Diego:
“…where does your authority derive? It derives from your personal ability to lead and inspire. It derives from your vision, your ability to listen, your tact, and your powers of communication. You will have the respect of others to the degree that you earn it through your own conduct.”
Quoting former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, John pointed out: “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionable integrity. Without it, no real success is possible.”
And, finally, from Winston Churchill, John said, “the price of greatness is responsibility.” The mark of a true leader is that he or she can always be trusted to take responsibility.
It is on these traits of leadership – vision, ability to inspire, to listen, to communicate, and to act with tact, integrity and responsibility – that John Kenny, like all the RI Presidents before and after him, placed such great expectations, when he said to all of us:
“Whether Rotary will thrive or falter, whether our service will mean much to many or little to few, whether Rotary is known with respect or seen as a relic of days gone by — all this is up to you”.
Indeed, it is all up to you. So, step up. Serve. Lead on. And may God be with you.