Giving Leadership

March 15, 2016

“If you were asked to identify the most precious resource in the world, what would you say? I know what my answer would be: leadership. I believe leadership is the single most valuable, most important commodity there is—and the scarcest. Not oil, not land, not cash, not technological know-how, but tenacious, focused leadership. Leadership is everything.”

So begins my latest book, Real Leadership, written with former Primerica co-CEO John Addison and launched just last week.

It’s easy to think of “leadership” as something that relates only to the elite few: the CEO, the president, the general, the boss. But leadership happens everywhere — in our relationships and our families, our communities and our work, and in every domain of our lives.

The question is not whether we’re called to leadership. (We all are.) The question is whether or not we answer that call — and if so, how. Because there are two kinds of leadership. You can take leadership.

Or you can give leadership.

Taking leadership, in its classic, most dramatic guise, is the general who seizes power, the armed revolutionary who topples the king and takes his throne, the corporate raider who engineers a takeover. Cassius and Brutus assassinating Caesar. Alexander Haig declaring moments after Reagan’s shooting, “I’m in charge!”

That said, taking leadership is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, especially in times of turbulence and trouble, the situation desperately calls for someone to take charge, to grab the wheel, take the helm, assume the place of decision-making before the ship hits the rocks and founders. (This was very much the case with John Addison, who was called to steer his company through a crisis that sometimes feels like an Indiana Jones epic.) And it doesn’t have to be in crisis. Sometimes when things are simply stuck, it can be helpful to gently take the lead and move things in a given direction.

But taking leadership, no matter what the context, carries within itself a risk — because taking is taking. Leadership taken slips so easily into dominance, and dominance into tyranny.

Then there is the other kind of leadership: giving leadership.

Rather than seizing the wheel, giving leadership is taking a friend’s hand and laying it on the wheel. Rather than stepping up to be the one others follow, it is being the one who encourages and supports others to step up themselves.

And that, in a nutshell, is the message of my next book, also about leadership … which comes out two weeks from today! (Evidently, March is leadership month.)


The book’s first chapter is titled “Taking Leadership.” I’ll bet you can guess what the last chapter is titled.

Giving leadership, as one character says in The Go-Giver Leader, is about empowering others, holding them up:

“When you believe in someone, when you promote them, champion them, respect their ideas, you give them leadership. … You can give leadership to your child, to a member of your work group, to a friend. To anyone.

“And it’s also a special kind of leading. Like servant leadership.

Giving leadership is a leadership style, but also more than that. It’s a way of being.”

To convey the idea we wrote a scene into the story where the hero, Ben, is out walking, struggling to understand how to provide the leadership his situation needs, when he hears an odd sound, “like a subdued chorus of oboes in the distance, or perhaps English horns.” Looking up, he sees a long, slender V-shaped formation of Canada geese flying south.

“He recalled reading somewhere that the V formation gave the birds far greater aerodynamic efficiency, allowing them to travel great distances without tiring.

“As he watched, the flock’s formation blurred and shifted direction, breaking apart and reforming seamlessly with a different bird slipping into point position at the V’s apex.

“Ben marveled. How did they know how to do that?

“The gentle honking continued, gradually fading as the birds made for the horizon. It seemed to Ben the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.”

Beautiful indeed: it’s the sound of giving leadership.



  1. Dave Fuehrer

    There has been a picture hanging in each office since I started my career. Today, it hangs in our home:

    A player who makes a team great,
    is more valuable than a great player.

    Looking forward to reading and sharing this book! Thanks John.

    • John David Mann

      Beautiful — thanks, Dave!

  2. Lucas Alan Greer

    Being 2023, just seeing one comment blows my mind! I will be ordering the set of three books along with Real Leadership.
    The key take away for me is, it is more than Leadership, “It’s a way of being.”
    This article was a joy to read and I look forward to digesting the content within it!


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