Salt is a curious thing. Hundreds of years ago, the Romans would pay soldiers in salt. It was called a salarium and this is where we get the word salary from today. It is even mentioned a number of times in the Bible, most notably in Matthew 5:13 when Jesus is talking about men being the “salt” and “light” of the earth.
In today’s world it is mostly a spice used in cooking. Funny thing is that there are many different reasons to use it and depending on when it is added to dishes, the results can vary dramatically.
The one constant is that a little goes a long way (most of the time) and this can also be said for leadership. I think we can all agree that there are few things as distasteful as something that is too salty. One of the benefits of salt is that it can, when used correctly, accentuate the natural flavors of the dish. In my opinion, this is exactly the same approach we should have towards leadership.
The best leadership is the type that no one notices. By no one, I mean both those inside as well as outside the organization. Leadership should be looked at like a catalyst that accentuates the natural talents of the people within an organization. It should not be able to be singled out as the cause of anything (good or bad). Leaders should be the subtle spice that brings the plate to life but does not overshadow the natural flavors of the main dish.
The challenge here is ego. There is much to read about leadership today. You can find hundreds of books, blog posts, articles, tweets, etc. regarding styles and methods of leadership and the greater majority of them are solid and well researched opinions. If you were to distill them all down, much of the discussion is really semantics. Each person has different words to describe many of the same concepts & applications…they are all variations on a theme (more or less).
The person who revolutionized organizational leadership was Jesus. He was the architect of the “flat organization”. Up until Jesus, only the high priests could go behind the curtain and talk to God. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple was torn. This meant that everyone could now talk to God…hence a flat organization. Jesus’ message was also one of love and this is (as John Wooden said) the center of leadership. Leadership is about other people, not the leader. It is about putting other’s needs in front of your own and doing what it necessary to ensure their success. If leaders would focus on the people, the people would take care of the business but too often leadership looks at people like a means to end instead of an end in themselves and this leads to problems (too salty).
Leadership is not glamorous. Leadership is not a job you get promoted to. People should not seek a leadership role to make more money. Organizations should not promote people to leadership roles because they are great in their particular field.
You must have a heart for leadership. You must genuinely care for the people and be willing to sacrifice part of yourself to help them become who they were meant to be. The greater the leadership role you have the less it is about you. You cease to exist because it is all about them. You find ways to do the things that matter. You have meaningful 5 minute conversations that are worth 4 hours of “work”. You inspire self-motivation in others. You worry less about your work and more about your team because they are your work.
Leadership is like salt; use it sparingly because a little goes a long way.