When I was about 13 years old, I spent a week in my State House of Representatives serving as a pageboy. It was my first true exposure to government—and quickly led me to the conclusion that I had no desire for a future in politics!
But upon reflection, it was also one of my clearest opportunities to witness formal leadership. I sat in a privileged position on the House floor, watching as the machinations of government grinded away while I awaited a summons to run an errand on behalf of one of the legislators. From there, I observed the reality of what it can mean to be a representative.
Filibusters. Absenteeism. Side conversations. Unrelated amendments. I can scarecely imagine what other distractions our modern smartphone culture has now brought into the hallowed halls of government.
I can only wonder what each Representative’s constituents might think about the quality of advocacy taking place within such an environment. How well are concerns and issues truly being represented?
With 2019 upon us, as I continue in my own leadership journey which began in 2015, I remain convinced that a central aspect of leadership is representation.
On one level, many leaders represent the broader organization—often times participating in broader, external conferences, trade shows, and the like, and serving as a ‘face’ of the company, displaying its values and lobbying for its interests.
But a more crucial aspect of representation is followership-focused. A leader serves as an advocate, a voice, and an even a face within the organization as well, ensuring that his or her subordinates are integrated into the larger whole, connected with resources, and having their concerns acknowledged and addressed.
I believe that it’s this representative role which is the primary way that the front-line teams and workers are kept central in the operation of the organization, rather than becoming an oppressed majority or taken for granted.
If the leader doesn’t promote his/her people, who will? If the leader doesn’t voice their concerns, who will hear and respond?
But there is another facet of this representation as well.
I read nearly the entire Bible during the latter portion of 2018, and the Old Testament in particular often strikes me for its portrayal of leadership: there are a number of times when substantial groups of people suffer as a result of their leader’s missteps. Plagues and punishment come down upon tens of thousands of regular citizens as a result of the choices made by their king or clan leader.
From this perspective, the leader’s role as representative brings a weighty warning: our mismanagement, selfishness, incompetence, or laziness can have dire effects on those that we are responsible for. Our actions, and the consequences we generate, don’t only impact ourselves: they will most often have a trickle-down (or worse, a snowballing) effect on those below us.
So, as a representative, we can be a conduit for resources and promotions and acclaim, or we can be a funnel of failure, multiplying the implications of our waywardness to the detriment of those who are trying to make their best contributions.
We can help them, or hinder them. But we cannot relinquish our representative role. There’s no use in trying to abdicate our advocacy; part and parcel of our leadership role is that we have a responsibility to and for our followers.
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following and leading with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Feb 2016), and A Discussion Guide for Teams & Small Groups (Dec 2017) —