Michael Jahrling over at Method Lead hit me with a question on Twitter last week that I had not asked since I started this blog, and I haven’t seen asked anywhere in the seemingly hundreds of blogs on leadership that I have read. The question – and it’s a good one – is why lead? You can read his post here.
Why take on the responsibility? Is it the money, the power, the prestige? Is it to serve others or serve yourself? Why even bother? It can be a serious headache sometimes.
To answer that question, I, of course, asked Mr. Lincoln. (Now before you assume that I’m one of the crackpots who think they can talk directly with the dead, let me assure you that I know I don’t talk directly to him. I have to analyze all of the things I’ve read about him to give you a solid answer.)
And then he tells me if I’m right or wrong through a Magic 8-Ball. (LOL)
The answer is means, motive, and opportunity. It wasn’t just Lincoln, though, who provided this example for me. These are the reasons we human beings do anything. And I believe the choice to become a leader is no different.
In Lincoln’s case, the means to become a leader were developed over a period of his first 40+ years. As a child, his prowess as a storyteller caused others to gather around him, and Lincoln obviously liked the attention. When he moved to Illinois as a young adult, his storytelling ability, combined with his problem-solving mindset and his intellectual capacity, drove people to admire him. His own program to study by himself to become a lawyer, as well as pay back business debts that most would have tried to ignore, then caused admiration in his community to grow for him on an immeasurable scale.
The means then fed the motive. Lincoln realized he was a popular, smart man, so he resolved to do something positive with these assets that would cause people to remember him after he left his life.
Here is where the side debate begins: Do people become leaders for self-interest or to serve others? In Lincoln’s case, it was both. His decision to do something positive demonstrated his interest to serve others. His decision to try to leave a legacy indicates that he also wanted to see himself in the proverbial spotlight.
Lincoln’s opportunity came from his vocations and one controversial issue. Being a traveling lawyer gave him local fame in the communities surrounding Springfield, Illinois, which then led to him being elected to the Illinois State House. His leadership there, and later in the U.S. Congress, then gave him statewide popularity. After leaving office to concentrate on his law practice, Lincoln might’ve gone into political obscurity had it not been for the issue of slavery. And when the very famous Senator Stephen A. Douglas ran for reelection, Lincoln took that opportunity to challenge Douglas to debates which garnered national attention.
I challenge my readers to look at their own life and the leaders they know. Does this story of Lincoln’s fit the pattern for the emergence of a leader? Did you, or someone you know, have the means, motive, and opportunity to become a leader? Is leadership like greatness? In other words, is it thrust upon you and then you embrace it, or do you “pre-meditate” to become a leader? Do you become one for yourself, for others, or both?