If you ask ten people what leadership means, you’ll probably get ten different answers.
Leadership is one concept that we all think we know and yet continues to remain elusive in its definition. Some words like leadership tend to get overused and watered down over time. However, it’s too important a word, too critical a role, to allow its core essence slip away and continue to get misconstrued. One way to better understand what leadership is is to retrace its etymology, where it comes from, and how we’ve come to understand it today.
The word Lead comes from the old English word, laed, which means “path” or “road.” The verb laedan means “to travel.” A leader is someone who, essentially, gets on the path, learns the path, and in a way “guides” his or her fellow travelers along this path.
The Latin word, ductare, has also been used to define leadership. It is the same Latin root for education, adducere, which means “to draw out.” The Latin noun ductor also means “a leader.” Doctors and educators, by this definition, are leaders. They guide and they draw out the best from their students and followers.
With this retracing and historical understanding, leadership, in essence, is our calling. We are called to lead one another, to empower one another, and to bring out the best in one another. One of the most influential leadership experts of the last few decades, John C. Maxwell, put it this way: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” For us Christians, we know what that way is because Christ has shown us the way, the truth and the life (see Jn 14:6). As followers of our leader, Jesus Christ, we are called not only to go the way of Christ, but to also show others the way.
Leadership is more than just meeting the bottom line. It is more than just being able to produce and deliver results. It is more than a prestigious positional title. It is a way of life, a calling, and a sacrificial act of gifting oneself to another.
Whosoever aspires to leadership desires a noble task (cf. 1 Tm 3:1). That is why the response to the call of leadership must start on our knees, in prayer, humbled and honored by the call to lead God’s people.
Let us pray for our leaders, that they may truly understand what it is they are called to do and that they may continue to discern God’s will for His people.
BJ Gonzalvo, Ph.D., is a psychologist and a US military veteran born and raised in the Philippines (now residing in Washington). His research focuses on retracing the indigenous roots of his core value of kapwa to help reframe and rediscover the sacredness of our interconnectedness. His writing, where he often integrates culture, psychology, and spirituality, has appeared in Northwest Catholic, Busted Halo, FilCatholic, and Mind & Spirit. He is the author of Lead Like the Saints (Paulines, 2019) and Gift of Kapwa (2022). @saintlynest