Why Leaders Exist

Why do leaders exist? This is perhaps one of the most simple yet profound questions we can ask about leadership. Oddly, I am not sure I have ever heard anyone address it specifically.

A Clock with the Hands Pointing to the Words Time for Change - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/iqoncept, Image #11038062

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/iqoncept

But until we answer this foundational question, leadership tips and techniques won’t make much sense.

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My answer to the question is this: Leaders exist to create a shift in reality.

Without leaders, things drift along. They go where they want to go, following the path of least resistance. However, when this is not desirable—or acceptable—you hire, elect, appoint or become a leader. The leader’s job is to overcome resistance and make things flow in a different direction. His or her job is to create a different reality.

So how do you create a shift in the status quo?

  1. Identify what needs to change. This is commonly called the situation analysis. What is unacceptable about your current environment? What frustrates you? What disappoints you? What needs to change?
  2. Determine the outcome you are after. This is what is commonly called vision. Getting clear on the what is more important than understanding how you are going to get there. What do you want to create in the place of the status quo?
  3. Decide how you will achieve your outcome. This is what is commonly called strategy. There are numerous ways to get to the same destination. Good leaders pick the one that will produce the results they are after in the most economical way.
  4. Create an action plan. It is not enough to determine your vision and decide on a strategy, you must carefully craft an action plan with specific milestones and due dates. You have to be able to chart your progress.

As you go through this process, you must enroll your team. This is the mark of great leaders. If you don’t do this, you can expect resistance. And, it’s not because your people are rebellious, lazy, or stupid. It’s because you didn’t do your job as a leader.

With a clear plan, and an aligned team, you can move mountains.

Question: Do you agree? Why do you think leaders exist? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.twitter.com/juanbg Juan

    Hi Mike, Great question and great answers. Leaders give us a Vision, sell us the Dream, Tell us what we do not see right now, tell us the outcome.
    This is the Why, but also the great Leaders will teach us the How. This is where the rubber meets the road, very few leaders are able to do what they say they will do. In other words it is not a matter of know, but also doing. To be a Leader, you need to be a role model, but also need to teach how, this is where the magic cycle begins – developing others into Leaders.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for the reminder. It truly takes both: knowing and doing.

    • http://ModernServantLeader.com Benjamin Lichtenwalner

      I like that point Juan. The how also has a lot to do with the character of the individual. While it may not be a fundamental reason for leaders to exist, I believe the character of leaders is a critical component of how they fulfill their duties.

    • Gailjtaylor

      I get so frustrated with speakers who tell you what, what, what and why, why, why but never how! It doesn’t matter what the topic is, don’t try and convince me to change unless you can tell me how to change.

  • http://www.daddytude.com Gary Walter

    It is very rewarding to accomplish something, as a team, that could never be done as an individual. To see something that needs to be changed, to pull together the team, and to get’r done. That is incredibly challenging, risky, and rewarding.

    Interestingly, your post seemed to migrate from why to how. I agree with the identification of a need, but for me – the big answer to the why is because some problems are too big for individuals to solve. The solutions to these issues require a team – and generally teams only move as fast as the leadership applied. Leaders provide the vision and clarity necessary to move forward in an uncertain world.

    Without vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 20:18)

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is a very good point. When you have big problems, you need a team. And a team needs a leader.

  • http://pearson.com Brian Kibby

    I couldn’t agree more — great people want and need to be challenged and crave leadership. If you do not lead them, they will leave you.

  • http://www.womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com Courtney(WomenLivingWell)

    When I think of how my husband is the leader in my home, I think of how his leadership brings unity. Usually we agree on most things. But when we come to a fork in the road where we do not agree, it brings unity to have one person as the pre-determined leader make the final decision. Though my opinion is always given – there is peace as I defer to his leadership. My husband is also a CEO. He has been told that when he misses a meeting no one can make a final decision and it’s a bit disorganized. But when he attends – decisions are made and people know what to do next. And the people want that. It gives them peace to know they are headed in the right direction but not responsible for the final outcome. When my husband succeeds in business they succeed. He could not do it without them and they know that – and so there is a bond there as they follow his lead. But I will say from watching I see the burden he carries as he leads – that if he fails – people lose jobs and families are hurt. Leadership is not an easy road.
    Courtney

  • http://www.mckeeverandsullivan.com Joe Marchese

    Management has many dimensions, but I’ve come to the perspective that leadership has two big responsibilities: enrollment and deployment. Sure, there are others, but these are the most powerful in creating the new reality. Getting people enrolled is really hard, but generates huge power. And focused action — the deployment — separates dreams from reality. Many people have a role t play in creating the new reality, but if the leader is successful in achieving these two, she will have done her job.

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  • Kingsly

    Well Said.. I agree…I am sharing this with our leadership team….Thanks for sharing..:)

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Mike! Leaders exist because there are always problems existing in our system and they are able to solve the same. Many excellent leaders over the history are able to bring out the desired change to a rising need or long standing problem. The quality of leadership determines the quality of that entire system. Great leaders build organizations, nations with their vision and execution. Weak and poor leaders demolish everything. Leaders create history and also have the power to change the course of history.

    In fact, a leader is who able to foresee or recognize problems and solve them. A nation gifted with a great leader will be able to emerge successfully from century old problems. On the other hand, some inefficient leaders mess up even little things. To me, leadership is an art and it’s a gift from God.

    Blessed is the nation which is able to get good and great leaders. Dictatorships and tyrannies associated with it tell us the impact of evil and weak leadership. As John C Maxwell rightly quotes, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” And, I concur with same.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree with John Maxwell. Everything does rise and fall on leadership. I’m reading George Bush’s book, Decision Points, now. You can clearly see that throughout the book.

      • http://www.womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com Courtney(WomenLivingWell)

        I bought George Bush’s Decision Points for my husband for Christmas – but that is one book I might just be peaking over his shoulder as he reads!!! I can’t wait to dig in – 27 days!

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  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    I’m glad you asked the question, Michael. I agree that a leader is brought in to change reality. It’s unfortunate that in the U.S. we take all the things a leader does well, create vision, overcomes failure, learns from experience, and combine that into a package called retirement. One of the greatest tragedies is that we take the people with the greatest wisdom and experience and send them packing at 65.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. That has never made sense to me. Three of the most productive people in my company are well north of 65, including one who is 81.

      • http://www.womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com Courtney(WomenLivingWell)

        My husband’s Vice President is 77! The connections that guy has is unmatchable – along with his depth of knowledge. We are so blessed to have this hard working guy on board. We truly see it as a gift from God to us!

    • http://ModernServantLeader.com Benjamin Lichtenwalner

      Excellent point John and I agree. This would make a great post to expand on that topic though. From my perspective, businesses often press for retirement for the wrong reasons – often to reduce benefits expenses. How can leaders shift this mentality in their organizations?

  • http://www.mortgagescribe.com Ken

    This is one of your best (in my opinion) blog posts yet. So simple, yet so clear.

  • http://LiveIntentionally.org @PaulSteinbrueck

    >>when [the path of least resistance] is not desirable—or acceptable—you hire, elect, or appoint a leader.

    Interesting. That sentence makes it seem as though someone (or some group) other than the leader comes to the conclusion that the status quo is not acceptable and then brings in a leader who can make the changes they want. I think more often than not, it’s the leader makes it clear to everyone else that the status quo is not acceptable and paints a clear vision of a better tomorrow. Then others choose to follow that person.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I think it is both. I have been on both sides. Regardless, you make a valid point. Leaders have to keep pushing beyond the status quo or they become irrelevant.

  • http://ModernServantLeader.com Benjamin Lichtenwalner

    Great post and comments Michael, I agree. From my perspective, the great leaders bring about changes in reality by serving their stakeholders. As one of my favorite Max DePree quotes sums it up:

    “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” – Max DePree

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  • Angie Weldy

    It’s encouraging to me that although I am not in what I would consider a leadership position, I do these things already. It’s also encouraging to me that the team I work with allows me to question if there is a better way to do something.
    This post was an uplifting way to start my Monday morning!

  • http://timothyfish.blogspot.com Timothy Fish

    Leaders exist because God wants there to be order in the world. Just as he created Adam first and made man the head of the home, he has set up leaders in all things so that things are done decently and in order rather than us all doing what is right in our own eyes.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree that God wants order, but I think it is more than this. God takes initiative and creates. He is always transforming things. I think this is the difference between managers (which we need) and leaders. Thanks.

  • Bruce Bartolomeo

    Michael, you are right on. One of the best examples of leadership I have found is Nehemiah. He had vision, articulated it, collaborated to obtain the resources he needed, assessed the situation and strategically involved people to to help towards the vision and showed them the benefit. A couple of main points; the mission was not for him but for the whole nation, he was unwavering, he did his homework BEFORE engaging the workers.

  • http://www.gospelofkingdom.com Gregory Scott

    Michael, thanks for this inspiring post. I was just watching a show on television last night that highlighted the leadership of Ronald Reagan and the fall of Communism. He did these four things you list and created a new reality, one very few thought possible when he took office. Your post also shows why leadership is essential to transforming a fallen world.

  • http://thatguykc.wordpress.com ThatGuyKC

    “Leaders exist to create a shift in reality.”
    Loved this line.

    Thank you for calling out the need to enroll the team in creating the shift. Witnessed too many leaders and projects crash and burn because of a lack of team alignment.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I have witnessed a lot of that, too. “Creating Alignment” should be a required course for all leaders.

  • http://jamesdshort.wordpress.com James

    I really appreciate your ability to break concepts down like you did with this subject. When I think of a perfect leadership model I think of Jesus Christ who relentlessly used the Shepherd as an example. The Shepherd leads and the sheep follow. The Shepherd doesn’t have to kick, scream or push his sheep. He simply sets a course, and begins to walk.

    What you have outlined for us, at least in my opinion, is the effective process of determining and setting that course. Thanks again for a timely article.

  • http://www.validleadership.com James Castellano

    I agree. Leaders exist to help others get From Here to There. Without a leader to blaze the path, it would be chaos. Everyone going there own way. I learned this from Bill Hybels at the WCGAL

  • http://www.christopherscottblog.typepad.com/ Christopher Scott

    Mr. Hyatt:

    I agree with you: leaders exist to make change.

    If no change is needed, then you don’t need a leader, you simply need a manager. In which, managers are easier to find, cheaper to higher, and less likely to leave.

    However, leaders exist to make change and create change. Anyone can keep an organization going in the same direction is is already headed, but a true leader is needed to change direction and momentum.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is exactly the distinction I would make between a leader and manager. If you want to preserve the status quo (and that’s fine, by the way), a manager will do. If you want to affect change, you have to have leader. Thanks.

      • http://timothyfish.blogspot.com Timothy Fish

        I think we often make too much of a distinction between the two. By doing so, we create this image that there are managers who don’t really consider the need for change and there are visionaries who are leading in change, but may not be very good at keeping the fires going. If I were building an organization, I wouldn’t want either of these types of people. A good leader is a person who balances the need and desire for change with the realization that there may still be a good reason to stick with the tried and true. A good leader is a person who is willing to take charge while at the same time recognizing that he must also follow those over him. Without that balance, the whole organization will suffer.

        • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Excellent point. It shouldn’t have to be either/or.

          • http://www.validleadership.com James Castellano

            In todays environment I believe you have to be a leader, a manager, and a follower. Each has its place.

  • http://pjlincoln.blogspot.com/ PJ Lincoln

    The best leaders are the ones that pick and choose their spots to be involved. If you try to micro-manage, you’re really saying you don’t trust those under you, that they’re not competent to do their jobs.

    This is what made President Reagan so great; he picked good people and let them do their jobs while providing a direction, a course to follow, an example to follow. This country could sure use another man like Ronald Reagan … I don’t care if he is a Republican, Democrat or Independent.

  • http://www.n2growth.com/blog Mike Myatt

    Hi Mike:

    Leadership isn’t discussed nearly enough at this level – great job. I have always said, that the best indication of value of leadership is what happens in its absence – very little. I dig a bit deeper into why we need leadership here: http://www.n2growth.com/blog/defending-leadership

  • http://www.15minutesaday.info/ Catherine Ford (@Catherine_Ford on Twitter)

    Great analysis. Without leaders people are often working at cross purposes and get so focused on the little things rather than the larger picture. Leaders help to raise people’s eyes and focus on what needs to be done for the greater good rather than just what’s in front of them.

  • http://www.LaurindaOnLeadership.com Laurinda

    I love this post. I agree. I have often wondered what historians or anthropologist in a 1000 years will say about our culture and leaders. Change agents is the conclusion I believe they will come to.

  • Pat

    I would add as #1 to this list, “Establish credibility and gain acceptance.” Without that, it’s almost impossible to create “a shift in the status quo”. I have come to find that as much as people may talk about change, they often do not really want it or at least not what it would really take the create the change. With change comes discomfort and very people want to endure that. Add to that a leader who is an “outsider” and change becomes almost impossible to effect. However, if you’re “one of them”, the way is a little bit easier because you are already accepted and people are willing to consider what you have to say and they have decided that maybe, just maybe, you’re trustworthy enough to follow.

  • http://www.bigb94.webs.com Brandon

    Great points! Leaders must exist because if there were no leaders, everyone would just move in different directions (or without purpose). As a leader, one should be able to encourage and move people towards a common goal with a common mindset.

  • http://strengths.jimseybert.com Jim Seybert

    Love this question. Had to stop and write a response so my brain could stop spinning and move on.

    Mike – I think leaders exist because it’s impossible for them not to.

    You open with the concept of people drifting along and following the path of least resistance, but I think it’s impossible for human beings to NOT be influenced by their surroundings. We are influenced and directed at every turn. Even those who try desperately to either “do their own thing” or “go with the flow” are led by the example, encouragement, criticism or mere existence of others.

    Leaders – good and bad – provide vision. They give us a sense of what lies ahead. Isaiah wrote that without vision people perish. If we need vision to stay alive, and vision is provided by leaders, then the fact that we’re alive should suggest the permanence of leadership. As long as there are people, they’ll be led by someone.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    The leaders I’ve had so far existed solely to annoy me.

  • http://www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog Michael McKinney

    Great post. I think it is also important to remember that sometimes a leader’s function is to maintain the status quo in a world that is changing around them. (see: http://bit.ly/ijYNoy ) More generally, I think the answer to the “why leaders exist” question is choice.

    Thanks again, Michael

  • http://www.liveonpurposecoach.com Deneen

    Leadership is more than a title. Leasderhip involves gaining the trust and respect of the individuls that you are leading. Otherwise, one will never maximize their potential because no man is an island. If trust and respect are present, the four steps that you mentioned work beautifully and the team succeeds!

  • http://english.yurigomezr.com Yuri

    I think leaders exist, because not everybody has a clear vision and the strength to turn that vision into reality.

  • http://www.thewellsacramento.org Josh Flood

    I think most leadership exists because of a pervasive mal-adapted immaturity.
    I have a sign on my office wall:
    “Everyone wants to serve God,
    especially in an advisory capacity.”
    The call to come and comment has become a rally cry for a generation of people who call themselves leaders. I think the question should be, “why should leaders exist.”
    My opinion is that leadership exists because individualized spirituality is pervasive (people are becoming more ’independent’) and leaders define their role by the ability to get people to follow them. So they have created a cat and mouse game that becomes this thing most people call leadership.

    The church fathers did not leave records teaching men to be great leaders, they left instruction for faithful to become great followers of Christ. The last thing we need in contemporary Christianity are a bunch of over educated people pretending to bring a “new vision” because they believe it is their role in the group. Christianity doesn’t lack vision, it lacks power. Leadership mostly exists because we want to harness that power with a system of power (influence) and not the way of the cross in death, humility and repentance. Leadership exists because of a breakdown in enlightented westernized individualism. This is not why it should exist though, however, most leaders are too cowardly to leave their thrones and obey, so they stamp around making noise pretending they are not afraid.

    Perhaps this is too much for some to process. Let me ask you a transitional question and see in your reflection if you see my point. What will human leadership look like in heaven?

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your comments. I respect your viewpoint, but I disagree with it.

      I am not an expert in the church fathers, but I have read them extensively. From the very beginning, starting with St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, you have a clearly articulated leadership structure: bishops, presbyters (or elders), deacons, and the laity (see his letter to the Ephesians). I don’t think this was because they had an “individualized spirituality” (though I do believe that is a problem today).

      I think leadership is something that is God-ordained. You see it clearly in Jethro’s counsel to Moses. It continues through the Old Testament, into the new, and throughout church history. It is part of what it means to be made in the image of God.

      This is not to justify abuse when it occurs, but I don’t think “throwing the baby out with the bathwater is the solution.”

      Thanks.

  • http://www.danieldecker.com Daniel Decker

    Interesting thought. Never really considered WHY leaders exist but thinking about the WHY really does help clarify the WHAT (the things that leaders do).

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yea, it shifted my thinking, too. I can’t believe I hadn’t addressed it before!

  • Charles Foltz

    I don’t think leadership is necessarily connected to creating any sort of new reality. Reality exists, we cannot change it, but we can utilize the elements of it to create movement.
    Without leaders, talented and skilled labor drifts about like leaves on a pond. A leader occurs when too much space remains between talented ideas and is recognized by one or more members of the talent pool. The space demands some form of action, like a magnet attracts iron particles. The particles have little resistance if the attraction is strong enough (a force of nature).
    The need for a form of action creates a demand for guidance. The leader arises due some inspiration or training that aligns best with the attractive need.
    In early seafaring days, if someone were to ask, “Who is the captain?” He would be directed to look for the man with the spy glass. He is the one who needs to see furthest ahead and determine the form of actions to be taken by the crew to travel safely and deliberately to the port desired (a goal).
    Leadership is a talent, but also it can be trained through example by other good leaders. If this were not so, how would you explain the idea that success in any form of hierarchical organization (business, club, etc.) is demonstrated by the patterns set by the person(s) at the top of the stack. When the examples are inspiring and congruent with the goal attraction, then subordinates will start to act as leaders in their area of influence within the organization. However, if the leadership examples are weak or disorganized, then poor to negative results stunt the birth of new leaders.
    Leadership in advancing a group is only partly dependent on a superior. Leaders, by definition, will create co-leaders at all levels within the structure of their system, team, corporation,etc. Remember the adage, “No man is an island.” Yet many fail today to be successful, because they believe they have all the ideas and power to determine all the direction only to eventually find themselves lying alone on a beach where the storm has destroyed their endeavor and marooned them.
    Leaders know how to build and how to risk trusting the talents and desires of subordinates. Not trusting others instills distrust, which acts like the growing root that breaks down the foundations of the most powerful man-made structures ever conceived.
    Leaders have the ability to sense need, arrange talent, see and create a path and build a vessel capable of supporting them all to the foreign shore of success.

  • Mel Lawrenz

    In terms of Christian leadership in any form, leaders are responding to the call of God to bring God’s resources in contact with human need. Engagement is the order of the day. God has poured out his gifts: grace, wisdom, love, material goods, human resources, etc. The God gap needs to be closed. That’s where leaders come in. Just talking about great things without engagement is like revving and engine without engaging the gears.

  • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com @kylelreed

    What a great definition of leadership…creating shifts in reality

    that gives me a whole other way to think about leadership.

  • Codyp

    I just simply agree. No need for a comment by me because the solution to my question was just answered. I will take this and apply it to my pastoral minstry positions as a leader.

    Someone said “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” What i really get from your post is that i don’t need to make my leaders drink as much as i need to create a thirst.

    Thanks Mike…

    • Gail

      Absolutely Codyp. You need to create thirst in those you wish to follow you. John Kotter explains that very well in his books Leading Change and Our Iceberg is Melting. Buy in is a critical part of any change management process and many leaders think that they just have to point in a new direction for others to follow.

  • Rena Kosiek

    Leadership. I think it is highly needed. There are so many leaders out there, but not all understand the importance of healthy leadership. You brought out some great points on leadership and why it is important. I think these things are something that we can implement within all of our lives. We all have influence in some way shape or form and I think that considers us all as leaders. This was a very beneficial post and I think it will encourage leaders to take a stand in their positions more rather than letting things “drift along.”

  • http://bretmavrich.posterous.com/ Bret Mavrich

    I just quickly (in my mind) tried to apply your definition to my most important leadership context: my marriage.

    And I think it works. I can think of a few “rub points” in my marriage that are nothing more than realities that I’d like shifted, but without any kind of verbalized or strategized outcome.

    I wish some things were different, but–and I think this is your point–wishing never made anything different.

  • Gail

    This is very true. I have studied leadership at university this semester and the key difference between a leader and a manager in an organisation is that a leader is there to change things (which includes the 4 points above) where as a manager keeps people on track.

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  • http://wewannado.com Ryan K

    I had never considered this but it is true that things will drift in an unfavorable direction unless leadership steps in and redirects it.

  • http://NathanRouse.org/ Nathan Rouse

    Great concise post. I would also add that even if you build a large team you’ll still meet resistance. People naturally resist change. Thanks for continuing to produce great material. Huge help!

  • Anna @ Http://annachristina.me

    I would add that, as part of the action plan, it’s important to ‘sell’ your vision. If you invest time in educating others about your vision over and over and over, pretty soon they’ll want to tie in their vision with yours. Better organizational alignment will be created.

  • Jacqueline

    Great information! So true, good leaders have the power of influence and can be the catalyst to motivate others to move in one direction. They have the ability to create a shared vision and get things done. When I think about the characteristics of good leaders, I think of good coaches. They should be excellent listeners, self-aware, supportive, always genuine, and confident in their ability to affect change. In my opinion, good leaders and good coaches go hand in hand.

  • Wes G

    A great day to read this post as I am organizing my life for next year and reflecting on what needs the change. My simple plan : see the need, burden for the need, take action to meet the need, don’t quit, and keep integrity. I feel some things burning deep within me, that sense that I can make a difference in this world. An inner accountability is growing that to be true to myself that I must respond to how I see the world could be a different and better place. Thanks for reminding us why leadership must exist.

  • Karen

    Thank you, Michael. Leaders exist to create a shift in reality. That statement so resonates with me and my journey.

  • Joseph DC Ross

    Leaders exist to guide, encourage, motivate and inspire others to be the very best that they can be. They exist to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of any team (group of individuals as in a family, corporation etc.) towards the achievement of stated common and worthwhile goals. They exist to provide us with a great example of character.

  • Timothy Fish

    The purpose of a leader is to take the group where the group wants to go. I have yet to see a group where the group didn’t already have a “vision” before the leader was identified. Groups follow the guy who is leading in the direction they want to go. If he picks his own destination, they will find a different leader. As they are headed in that direction, the leader’s job is to identify an efficient way for the group to work together in reaching their chosen destination.