In 2015, during his tumultuous tenure as Speaker of the House, Ohio congressman John Boehner left us with this thought on leadership:
In that one quote, John Boehner:
What would the world look like under Boehner's view of leadership?
For one, Jerry Maguire would have never walked out on his job, and embarked on one of the greatest love stories and entrepreneurial journeys of the 1990s.
(If you don't get the Jerry Maguire reference, you should stop what you're doing right now and get to the nearest Netflix subscription.)
(And you should be ashamed of yourself.)
Under Boehner's definition of leadership, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would have never become "Gandhi" by fighting racism in South Africa. He would have asked, "Who's with me?"
And heard nothing but crickets.
Martin Luther King Jr. would have never become The Martin Luther King Jr. Instead, he would have sent out a poll to determine what level of support the Montgomery bus boycott had amongst soccer moms age 25-49 with a college degree, and realized that he didn't yet have the support of a key constituency.
Lyndon Johnson would not have demonstrated the type of leadership that could have made him a great president when he stated that Democrats had, "lost the South for a generation" upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But he would have gotten Boehner's approval when he demonstrated the type of weakness that ultimately ruined his legacy when he tried to appease multiple competing political factions during the Vietnam War.
And, closer to home, how many entrepreneurs would be where they are today had they waited for others to get onboard the train before it left the station?
I know no one was knocking down my door to be part of yet another consulting firm.
Here are two truths:
- Real leaders don't wait until someone is standing behind them before they take a bold step forward.
- There is no cheaper or meaningless word in today's world than "follower."
If all it takes to be a leader is to have followers, then anyone with a Twitter handle is a leader.
And, if I want to be even more of a leader than I already am, all I have to do is take up that woman or man wearing next-to-no clothing on the offer they sent via DM to get me thousands of additional followers for just $14.99.
At that cost, by the end of the day I can be five times the leader I was this morning for the same price I paid to take my whole family to see Finding Dory.
Leadership doesn't require having 12, 12,000, or 12,000,000 followers--in fact, real leadership often begins with 0 followers, and a whole lot of people telling you that you're an idiot.
But leadership does require courage.
And the willingness to take what might be a very lonely walk.