John. Buchan (1875 – 1940) was a Scottish novelist, historian, and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada. He basically invented the spy novel. I ran across a quote attributed to him that says this:

The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.

Of all the things we do as leaders, one of the primary ones is to build relationships. In building those relationships, we word to understand the mentality of the person, to learn them and, in that, to see them develop and grow. We also think of leaders as people who are creative, have a charismatic personality, and who are innovative. These are all great qualities; not all of them make a person a leader, however.

Those creative and innovative qualities are what come out of us. It’s a reflection of our skillset and also our self-awareness. We learn to lead ourself, we invest in ourself and the result of all that is the unique creativity and innovation that is within us. What is already part of our character and nature comes out in a way that is uniquely ours.

John Maxwell has been known to say that leadership is influence. And truly, that’s part of leadership. Do I consider those who have millions of Instagram followers to be leaders? Some. But leadership is not just about influence. It is much more, and one of those things leadership is about activating within others their skills, their creativity, their innovation, and their influence, all in a way that is unique to them.

So much of a leader’s influence comes from pouring in to activate. We like to think of ourselves as investors. But instead, what if we should truly think of ourselves as activators, helping to turn on what already exists, even though it may be hidden, helping to activate the unique creativity, vision, and character that resides in the other.

To do that means we learn, through relationship, and uncover the gifts that exist within them. Then we help the other see it inside of themselves and use it.

So as much as I have said and championed that we must invest in others, I think I need to change my thinking. Leadership is about helping others activate the skills, character, and identity that resides within them.

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