People are unpredictable. That’s why leadership is so difficult; there’s no set formula for organizing people and starting a movement.
The best leader is one who earns their authority, not one who expects a position of authority. Great leaders understand that respect is earned from your followers, not merely given. Leadership is stronger when given from below, not above.
That’s why much of what people are writing about leadership nowadays talk about the leader being a servant. In fact, that’s why Jesus taught this principle when he was on earth.
The leader that expects authority simply because they are in a position with a title of authority will struggle to find a formula to organize people who are inherently unpredictable.
The leader that spends the time serving and earning the respect of people will have a positive reputation that precedes him.
Putting someone in a place of influence is always a choice by the people they are leading.
Humans are social creatures, hardwired for relationship. It’s hard to imagine a day completely empty of social interaction. Even if you were to spend an entire day in solitude, you are still spending the day relating to and conversing with yourself.
Being the first three weeks of school at UCSD, many of the freshmen are exploring different campus organizations, trying to find communities where they belong. While talking to them about their new experiences and relationships, I hear phrases such as “they’re really friendly” or “I feel welcome”.
When it comes to college groups, first impressions and reputation spread by word of mouth make a huge difference in the first couple of weeks. Newcomers have only a couple of interactions to judge an organization with, and it often boils down to how they are treated and how they feel.
However, people don’t crave friendly interactions; they crave friendships. They interact with friendly people in hopes that they can build a friendship.
It’s really sad how it seems that college students are generally worse at making friends than kindergarteners are. It’s because kindergarteners aren’t trying to be friendly, they’re just trying to be a friend, where as college students worry about things like image, impression, social norms, etc.
Being friendly and being a friend are two seemingly related virtues, but the two do not always come in the same package. The person who is as friendly as Barney the dinosaur isn’t someone who I would necessarily want to be friends with.
Friendliness is usually associated with a warm smile, perfect conversation, genuine attitude, etc. But a true friend is someone who will say it as it is, not hide things from you, and be completely honest and real.
The irony is that friendships aren’t based upon being friendly, they are based on a connection that is much deeper. In all my experience, I’ve been able to boil down friendships to two main components: interacting with each other, and having a genuine desire to share multiple aspects of life with each other.
Friendships are some of the most powerful things you could ever invest your time in, so don’t reduce it down to merely “being friendly”.
Dunbar’s number is proposed to be the limit to the number of stable and active social relationships that a human being can maintain. The number, roughly estimated to be about 150, has a couple deep implications.
For one, it reveals that a person’s influence can not be increased simply by increasing the quantity of relationships. This poses a fundamental challenge to traditional leadership, where the goal is for one group of individuals to unite and organize a large group of people. I’ve noticed this phenomenon personally, as many of the groups that try to maintain solid leadership and growth have difficulty remaining personal somewhere north of the 100 people mark.
In the past, centralized leadership worked under smaller groups of people, because the ease of connection and communication was nowhere near as quick or easy as it is today. Centralized leadership generally makes people feel safer, because they have someone on top that they can choose to trust to lead and guide them. However, as the world becomes more connected, it becomes more and more difficult for a single leader to keep up with what is going on with each person individually.
Instead of having a centralized leadership, we can use a decentralized system to take advantage of Dunbar’s number. Instead of having one person be the head for hundreds or thousands of people, decentralization levels the playing field and removes the “head”.
Decentralized systems gather around a principle or ideal rather than people. Instead of having people in leadership, they have core values. Thus, within a decentralized system, individuals are free to build and maintain connections among each other, creating a more connected and integrated community that can easily adapt and grow.
Decentralized systems embrace community, while a centralized system pushes conformity. And just like how we are realizing that we need to move from industrialization to personalization, we must also choose to move from centralized systems to decentralized systems.
Read The Starfish and the Spider if you want a better picture of what I’m talking about.
Above is a brief interview I did with the folks at the I am a Hero movement, where I share about what I’m doing and my upcoming book.
If you aren’t familiar with the I am a hero movement, I suggest you check them out. Dubbed a worldwide movement of everyday superheroes, their goal is to freely give hope and inspire great things to everyone around them. They are about connecting real people and sharing real stories.
It’s been about a week since I attended TEDx San Diego, and I’m still thinking about the inspiration and ideas that were shared at the conference.
TEDx San Diego
In case you aren’t familiar with TED talks that are slowly popping up everywhere, feel free to check them out. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.
I stumbled across TEDx San Diego while browsing the internet one day, and decided that I would like to go to one of these conferences at some point in my life. Coming across the TEDx San Diego page, I promptly noticed that I would be in San Diego at that time, and filled out an application. (Yes, you must apply in order to attend a TEDx Conference)
I applied, thinking that I probably wouldn’t get in seeing as I had applied late, and probably wasn’t the hyper-entrepreneur that other people probably were. But when I received the acceptance letter, I quickly paid my $100 for a ticket.
TEDx was incredible. To say the least. The way that the speakers engaged with the audience on levels ranging from emotional to intellectual was nothing short of mindblowing.
I learned about and connected with people who had inspirational life stories, people who were making a difference socially in the world, people who were researching new technologies such as thought controlled computing, and people who were musical prodigies. There were people who were teaching entrepreneurship in prisons, people who were educating homeless children, authors who wrote countless bestseller books, researchers learning about indigenous African tribes, engineers who are creating contact lenses with a computer chip on them, and so many more.
It felt amazing sitting in an auditorium surrounded by people who were so captivated and willing to learn and understand what each speaker was talking about. Each session lasted approximately an hour and a half, but the day felt like it went by in a breath.
It was a seven hour conference packed with 33 talks, all of which struck different intellectual and emotional chords.