A Few Thoughts on How I’m Rethinking Leadership, Blogging

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is how leadership translates through the written word, especially through digital mediums like Facebook, Twitter, and (of course) blogging.

To be honest, I’ve never really been a super-fan of the “leadership blogs” or “leadership bloggers” that are out there (except for a very rare few) because I either feel that they do it poorly or that they don’t (in my own mind) deserve to entitle themselves to the moniker of “leader.”

The way that I have always seen it is this: If you give yourself the title of “leader” then you, to a certain degree, disqualify yourself from being one as it’s not something you can (or have the right to) give yourself but something that you ultimately receive from the people that you lead.

Perhaps it’s because I demand an unfair amount of humility that should be the hallmark of a great leader and those that call themselves (unabashedly, unashamedly, or dogmatically) one obviously do not have that quality.

Or perhaps it’s because leadership, to me, is always in tandem with an attitude of service (servant-leader and servant-leadership being the more appropriate and more comfortable word/phrase) and the vast majority of those that claim to be “leadership bloggers” don’t appear to serve and give their community of readers much more than lip-service and and not-so-soft reminder that they are, in fact, self-proclaimed leaders.

But if I’m honest with you – and I try to always be as honest, frank, and forthcoming with you as I possibly can be – a good portion of my discontent with leadership blogs (and those that write them) is simply my own personal insecurity with the idea of leadership as I do not have a personal definition that I am comfortable with believing in and much less discussing and defending.

It’s been an even greater rub, at times, because people have historically called me a “leader” (or at least put my name in the same sentence as leader) and since I feel inadequate with defining it I abandon the notion completely and try to shrug away the reference with impunity.

But things are changing and I’m slowly (very slowly) beginning to turn my attention to what this leadership thing is all about, how it impacts the people that I serve, and how to manage and steward it rightly and effectively.

More than that I’m beginning to pierce of veil of leadership in my own life, in my business, and even in my personal relationships and marriage to the point where I don’t internally itch and shift uncomfortably when someone call me a leader or reference leadership qualities that I may (or may not) have.

I cannot tell you why this is happening and I cannot succinctly tell you what it means but I can tell you that it is happening and that I want to be a better leader (again, whatever that means).

I want to serve my community, my family, and those that I have influence with well and leave positive and lasting change for their lives, businesses, and relationships.

And if it’s a blog (this blog) that experiments with that notion then so be it and I hope you excuse the dust as I may entertain more and more posts about my thought processes surrounding leadership and what I’m learning. Heck, it might even get a bit messy but I’m willing to try.

What about you? What do you think about leadership, generally and specifically? How about leadership as showcased and performed online?

Love to hear your thoughts.

[Image via Creative Commons, Donald.]

  • http://ericdye.it Eric Dye

    Genuine leadership is a result of going somewhere that’s worth following.

    Just keep walking. Online and off.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      thanks for this eric.

  • http://wew.eyespeak.com benj

    100% relate. I went through this same internal dialog a year and a half ago. I am an open book if you want to get messy together.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      yes. lets. ;)

  • http://www.jonnymccormick.wordpress.com Jonny McCormick

    I think this is a pretty obscure and warped view of humility. I think your definition of humility is actually a definition of false humility!

    True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s not actually thinking of yourself or your giftings at all, rather it is just contributing in the most appropriate way. For someone who is a clear leader to say they are not a leader out of ‘humility’ is ridiculous and it actually robs a group of people (and the world) of their contribution.

    I really dislike this definition of humility that says I must become (or act) less than I have been created to be. This is a warped view of humility and it is false humility.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      i think you’re inserting your own perspective here that doesn’t even come close to matching my own. thanks for your thoughts but they’re a bit off.

      i’m totally aware of the temptation for false humility but the context, as noted in the post, is two things notably:

      1. leadership bloggers and their dogmatism
      2. my own personal definition is lacking, which i admit freely

      • http://www.jonnymccormick.wordpress.com Jonny McCormick

        I’d be interested to know exactly where you think I am inserting my own perspective here that doesn’t match your own.

        I merely reacted to the text in front of me and responded to the questions that you posed at the end.

        I am aware of the context that you are talking about leadership bloggers (of which there are many spurious contributors) and the you are without a concrete definition yourself. But, it still seems to me that in the first couple of paragraphs of this post you make some pretty maximising claims. For example:

        - The way that I have always seen it is this: If you give yourself the title of “leader” then you, to a certain degree, disqualify yourself from being one as it’s not something you can (or have the right to) give yourself but something that you ultimately receive from the people that you lead.

        Hope this helps clear things up a little bit?

        • Jamie (Lionstand)

          Johnny, I hope you don’t mind but maybe I can offer some clarity and John can correct me if I’m off base.

          Before that though, it looks like you’re from Ireland based on some of your posts on your blog. What part? I’m originally from Limerick myself.

          I think when John says “inserting your own perspective” he is referring to your paradigm or viewpoint of leadership that has been developed, like all of us since we were little sprouts. John has a view on leadership based on the sum total of his experiences, education and perceptions just like you and me. And that’s where the disconnect comes from, we all have had different experiences, been educated differently and have different perspectives.

          Even though I write on leadership, and I think it’s safe to say I’m probably not on that list where he says there’s a few that he is a fan of, I actually agreed with a lot of what John wrote but there were some points where I would not agree.

          I think it’s clear that John is on a journey of discovery in writing this post and when someone is trying to open themselves up to a new idea(s) it can be a hard pill to swallow when someone says that their viewpoint is warped. I know it would be for me. This is just me but I probably wouldn’t correct anyone to that degree unless I had the influence in their lives to do so.

          I hope that helps and if you feel like I’m sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong then you can completely ignore this.

          And John if I’m way off, please feel free to correct anything I said.

          • http://john.do John Saddington

            still learning… a ton. this is my hacky-version of sharing my thoughts on the fly…!

        • http://john.do John Saddington

          cool jonny. my point isn’t that leaders can’t call themselves a leader – it’s that the better ones don’t need to do it (although they may).

          slightly nuanced, perhaps, but i’ve seen too many give themselves the title (like like social media GURU) that make me sick.

          • http://www.jonnymccormick.wordpress.com Jonny McCormick

            Jon, completely agree. I think that a lot of people give themselves undue titles. but, equally, I think if someone is a leader they should feel confident to call themselves that and not have an air of false humility. It’s a difficult balance. Weird thing to hold in tension and very, very difficult to discern.

            • http://john.do John Saddington

              for sure! thanks for your support!

  • http://iheartthechurch.com Justin Simmons

    John, you bring up what most people think about leadership. I think this is very common to not consider yourself a leader, while others look at you as such. I believe everyone has some level of leadership (some may lead thousands while others lead single digits) and especially if you are a Christ follower… you are to be light (leader) salt (leader).

    I am also put off by those that have to remind you that they are a leader… it is those that get in the trenches with people that effectively stand out as great leaders in my mind. I’ve been developing this series called Leading From the Front for this specific reason… leadership that focuses on the people you lead and not what you get yourself from leading.

    Great thoughts John… just keep plugging away and leading with humility!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      thanks justin. i’ve just begun this change of heart… so i’m still getting used to the idea. still very uncomfortable…!

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

    Leadership is an interesting thing. John Maxwell said “Leadership is influence.” If that is true then we’re all leaders in some way, shape or form because we all have influence… for some it’s positive, for others it’s negative. Each of us gets to choose what type of influence we create. What we can’t always control is the level of impact (the ripple).

    Real leaders though aren’t about titles. They are about the mission and serving those who they lead.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      i like this daniel. fair assessment!

    • http://Iheartthechurch.com Justin Simmons

      Thats money right there. Great leaders are going to do it regardless of what precedes their name.

      I once heard Andy Stanley say in a podcast that his church’s pastors are not called pastors. He took the title out and exchanged it with a culturally relevant term, yet they keep things casual on first name basis. (it surprised me as some people I know are overly infatuated with their title… I’m honored to be called pastor, but birth name works just fine :))

      • http://john.do John Saddington

        i love this too.

  • jamie (Lionstand)

    This is a sticky one that can open up a can of worms so kudos for having the boldness to speak your mind.

    I blog on leadership because I’m fascinated with it. Does that make me a leadership blogger…? Yes. Does that make me a leader….? Absolutely not!

    It’s like the Apostle Paul giving marriage advice in Ephesians….. The man was never married but he is spot on on what he wrote.

    I am addicted to bettering myself because the better I am the better I can help others. And it’s not something you master and then do, you master as you do.

    Titles hold very little sway in todays culture and rightly so in my opinion. And your thoughts on servant leadership…. I couldn’t have put it better myself. If being a servant was good enough for the creator of the universe then it’s good enough for me.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      i think this is a good perspective. title is one thing, authority and influence is another. one doesn’t guarantee the other.

  • http://crdahlberg.com Craig

    Many of us struggle with this. A true leader should be using WordPress, right? I’m not even “there” yet!

    I posted some thoughts on this a couple of months ago also:


    • http://john.do John Saddington

      taking a look now…!

  • Raye Cage

    I am in the process of launching a blog about leadership. It has taken me a while to get the nerve to do it because… I feel that I’m not one myself and have no clear definition of it, but this strong prompting within me keeps pressing me to go for it anyway. Just like you, my thought process may be messy but I have to give it a try…

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      let me know when it goes live!

  • http://ilovethechurch.com Romey Ritter

    Leadership is servanthood…John you certainly serve a lot of people continually putting out solid information for FREE…

    Leadership is visionary…you clearly communicate your vision, right out of the gate. People know where you are going, what your about and they keep reading your blog(s).

    Leaders are graceful…you are graceful even in the face of biting comments (see above) from people who obviously enjoy the information you so beautifully give for free…yet will be critical or harsh in their opinion.

    Leadership is encouraging…it makes room for people to grow into themselves. It is not critical or harsh or judging. It lifts people, it doesn’t put them down.

    You model these John….thanks for being so committed and consistently helping so many people be better. That’s the ultimate goal of leadership…

    • http://www.jonnymccormick.wordpress.com Jonny McCormick


      I can’t help but feel that the comments you made about biting comments are in some way directed towards me.

      I did not mean for any comments that I made to sound biting. i am merely posing a difference of opinion. Which I thought was a good thing to do.

      I am merely trying to engage in a dialogue, as I have other times elsewhere on this blog. It is worth noting perhaps that you are not trying to engage in that dialogue or giving me that courtesy if the comment that you have made is directed towards me. Which, in my opinion, is a little bit childish.

      I hope I have read the situation correctly. But, given the rest of the comments I thought that you have perhaps takenmine out of context…

      I do love this blog, and I love John’s content and the community that he curates here.

      • http://john.do John Saddington

        i’m not looking to start a fight – remember, this blog post (and perhaps a few others) are just a messy expression of how I’m beginning to think about it. I don’t think that I’m “right” or that anyone else is “wrong” but I’ll definitely share the things that i like and dislike about the “industry”….!

  • http://bluecollarliving.com Jame Dibben

    I have a category on my blog called “Leadership” and I try to write something in there at least once a month.

    I do not consider my blog a leadership blog but I do think that every blogger should try to write about leadership.

    Everyone has the potential to be a leader and everyone has a different perspective on what good or bad leadership consists of.

    Writing about it will help you develop your own style and belief system.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      thanks buddy! writing it out is forcing me to work through it…!

  • Peter

    Hi John,

    I was reading a Zig Ziglar book once and he said that his favorite definition for leadership was from Dwight D. Eisenhower who said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do what you want done, because they want to do it.”

    The first time I read that I pondered on it the whole day because I really had to thunk about what that meant. May I ask for your thoughts or the community’s?

    • http://john.do John Saddington


      wow, i love that ziglar quote!

      let me think about it for a bit……

    • http://about.me/peterguirguis Peter

      Hi John,

      In my opinion, I think that the Zig Zigler quote does fit in with the Jesus style leadership of being a servant leader. What I really like about this definition of leadership is that I think that a lot of leaders today like to give orders to the people that they lead and they never bothered to motivate them.

      But that wasn’t the way that Christ did it. He was able to get His disciples to do what He wanted them to do, and he was able to motivate/inspire them for life.

      • http://john.do John Saddington

        good point here peter. thanks for it

  • http://horebinternational.com/blog/ Ola Aiyegbayo

    Hello John,

    I sometimes blog about leadership and through that process I get the opportunity to reflect and think deeply about the subject. I believe that by sharing the things I have learnt about leadership, this helps my readers to think more deeply about the subject which hopefully makes them better leaders. As a husband and a father, I see myself as a leader and try to exert a positive and godly influence on my family’s growth and development. Thanks for the post.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      sure thing. definitely processing things in real-time…!

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Leadership is influence. Influence comes with relationship.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      couldn’t be said any simpler.

  • http://bit51.com Chris Wiegman

    When it comes to blogging I’ve always looked at those who can successfully build and guide a strong community as leaders and in that you have done better than just about anyone.

    On a different note I like your thoughts on those who apply the title of leader to themselves. Titles such as leader, expert, and others are something that must be earned and not taken.

    • http://john.do John Saddington


      thanks. it’s not a great understanding but it’s a place to start for me!

  • http://joshuamhood.com Josh Hood

    True humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.

    I think you exhibit true humility, Jon, because you are focused on others, and when you read a term like “Social Media Guru” you can’t stomach it because it makes it sound like they are self-focused…

    Which I totally agree with. :)

    • http://john.do John Saddington


      that is part of it. perhaps it’s just a simple idea that i’ve always had… that guru is a lame word.



  • Dave ©

    When you refer to people, you should use “who” instead of “that.”

    …people who lead…not people that lead…

    If you follow my advice, would that make me a leader?

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      yes! but i’m not editing it.


  • Donna Denil

    Hi John, by offering so much value through your blog content you ARE a thought leader. I personally have learned so much by visiting your blog frequently and subscribing via google reader. Thank you so much for the excellence you provide!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      thanks donna! it’s fun too. who would have thought?

  • http://markasbell.com Mark

    I completely agree with what you’ve written and feel the same way regarding about leadership. You are right-on about humility and servant leadership and it rubs me wrong when I sense “leaders” are either failing to understand it or have lost sight of it in all their fame and popularity. The fact that you’ve been so transparent with your thoughts on the subject adds relational value to us, the readers, and at least to me sets a good example. Now you know my preferred type of leader – one who leads by example.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      thanks mark. i, by no means, am even close to finding my own personal definition.. just talking it through! thanks for this encouragement!

  • http://butcheringsaint.wordpress.com Nate Schubick

    Only the people who can read the “map” are truly able to be called leaders. Some have memorized a different map, some go and make a different map. Ultimately if you have been thrust from obscure darkness to light, you sir, ARE a leader.