How can you spot a REAL leader? (Hint: It’s NOT what you think!)

Last summer I attended the funeral of a very respected Christian leader. I had the honor of driving my 82 year old Uncle Russell who was a close friend of the deceased. At the funeral we ran into Dr. Phil Lewis and I had the privilege of introducing the two of them.

I might point out here, just for the sake of background, that one of the reasons I so enjoy my Uncle Russell’s company is that it makes me feel young – like about 9 years old young -  because I sometimes get the idea that he still thinks I’m about 9 years old! Growing up I wanted to be a mechanic and my Uncle Russell, who had worked for over 25 years as a mechanic  and shop foreman for Cummins Diesel, had shared a stack of mechanics manuals with me over the years while also encouraging me NOT to become a diesel mechanic! So I settled for being a college professor in later life and in that role I got to work on Dr. Lewis’ team.

Anyhow, I introduced my uncle to Dr. Lewis and they started chatting. My uncle asked Dr. Lewis, “What is it that you do up at the college?” To this question Dr. Lewis replied, “I work with Burt in the school of business. ” Dr. Lewis didn’t mention that he’s not only the dean of the college of business, that he’s dean over three other colleges on campus, that he’s the author of 14 books, or any of his many accomplishments. Or even that he was my boss. And notice he very generously said he works with me even though I work for him. He went out of his way to be so gracious to my uncle and I appreciated his unnecessary humility very much. As you may have gathered, there’s still a little bit of that 9-year-old in me who wants to look good in the eyes of his uncle!

Dr. Lewis’ simple but powerful act brought to light something I’ve heard several times: A real leader doesn’t derive his or her power from anything as superficial as a “title.” What is most important to a real leader, I believe, lies in a thought offered by Dwight D. Eisenhower years ago: “A leader is one who has earned the right to have followers.” I can think of many other examples like the one I shared above where Dr. Lewis has demonstrated that he has indeed done that.

Dr. Lewis shared his leadership philosophies and those of other successful leaders in his book, From Boardroom to Whiteboard. You can get a copy for yourself at or at the Full Circle Bookstore. You’ve got time before Christmas to get yourself a copy and one for the leaders in your life.

I’ll even use my vast influence to help you get it autographed,if you like. He does work with me, after all!