What is a leader? How do you define the qualities that make up the concept of Leadership? These questions were recently posed to me when my publisher came looking for a new line of products for the company’s Personal Development catalog. We were talking about it over a plate of General Tsao’s chicken, ironically enough. I remember noting at the time that even the food we order leans toward the attraction of Leadership. It’s irresistible.
We settled on a set of topics for me to cover in my next program, and I set out to write and record an audio defining the qualities that Leaders share. What happened next, though, no one could have predicted, and it had a huge impact on my thoughts about Leadership in action
Not long after I began writing this program, a small albino mouse appeared unexpectedly on my front lawn, showing up as bright as a golf ball on the green under the full moon. A friend caught him and gave him to me, believing he was doing me and the mouse a favor, foiling the night’s prospects for cats and owls.
Lido Mouse became a pet, and I was led to believe (falsely) that he’d die without company. One mouse became two… and inevitably 14. Since mouse babies are often the victim of cruelty or they arbitrarily become snake food, I’ve opted to keep them and put up with terrible inconveniences you can only imagine if you have pet mice. Yet there is a purity in their behavior that translates directly to our topic of Leadership.
When a child (or a mouse) is born, the offspring is nothing short of a tyrant. He demands all of his parents’ time, attention, energy and resources. Vicariously exhausted, I watched Tawny the mama mouse become all but transparent as a river of nourishment to her 12 babies. They ruled her. I never before considered that mice actually have eyebrows, and hers were furrowed constantly. In time she led the babies to grow into self-reliant creatures that fend for themselves and interact with each other according to a code. No, I am not kidding. Even mice have rules.
This Is Utopia
The girls live together in one ample cage. They are calm and docile, and they have no leader. They live as a single cooperative colony, sleep together, eat together, share, play, get along and seldom have a cross word for each other. This is Utopia. It’s uncanny, and frankly I’m in awe.
I can’t help wondering what would happen if everyone in the world adopted these qualities of self-leadership. What might we be able to accomplish as a single colony of cooperative, loving beings, caring for each other and living in harmony? A voice in my head says, “Dream on, kid.”
Then there are the male mice, who quickly demonstrated that they are territorial, competitive, pushy and even predatory in packs. I’ve concluded that the males are not mice but tiny rats. I’ve patched torn ears, mended bloody tails and given more time-outs than a professional ref at a boxing arena. I’ve separated the boys again and again, changed up their living quarters, experimented with different pairing combinations, used various training methods – they are smart little guys – and ultimately implemented isolation and prison-style disciplinary tactics. Their deeds are the stuff of nightmares. After tremendous effort, trial and error, we now have peace.
So What Is A Leader?
A leader is one who assumes the role of guiding others, assumes responsibility for their progress and welfare, through push or pull, for good or ill effect. This is abundantly clear with these mice of mine. In each colony, driving all of their hostile behavior, is one male’s need to assert himself as the leader. Where this paradigm has failed, a petty tyrant has persecuted his brothers and blood has been spilled in copious amounts, shocking even the most ferocious among them. Where Leadership has succeeded, one mouse has simply, confidently assumed the role, defended it against all pretenders and ascended to a place of authority. He is dominant and the others look to him for guidance and support. He is fair and unbiased, and his subjects follow him unquestioningly.
The qualities of leadership surround us all and reside within each one of us. They are as basic as our fundamental nature. We see this everywhere, including in this microcosm of pet mice in my home. Whether man or mouse, you are already a leader, even if you haven’t had the chance to demonstrate it. From here on in the question is, which type of Leader will you be?