The other day I was sitting beside a young man in a meeting. He leaned over and asked me, “How did you become a leader?”  Before I had a chance to even mull this question over, he said, “I’d love to be able to tell other people what to do.”

This was when I knew that my answer didn’t matter.

He wasn’t cut out to be a leader. Leaders aren’t in the position of leadership to tell other people what to do; they are in the position of leadership because they believe they can make a difference. Leaders are actually in the highest service position possible. They know they can influence, advise, demonstrate, and encourage, but they know that telling alone does nothing.

Standing on a podium giving direction is not leading; it is avoiding being a leader. A leader rolls up her sleeves and gets her hands dirty. She is a part of the process not apart from the process.

Leaders understand the power they wield is not in their words alone; it is in their actions. I can remember an Olympic coach of mine who would stand at the top of the stairs with a coffee and a stopwatch in his hands. He would talk about how hard we should work and the importance of training diligently. Then he would say, “Go.” We would run out of the building into the frigid temperatures, our breaths turning into frost, our fingers numb from the wind, and run around the lake while he sat inside the warmth of the building.

Was it a surprise that some team members cheated? Took shortcuts? No. But even those who did run the complete 3.3 miles didn’t run inspired. They ran from some internal belief system that they should.

When we returned and ran up the stairs, he would be eating a donut with his coffee. The more he showed his lack of being part of the process, the more we showed a lack of interest in giving to him. When he would try to motivate or inspire us with his words, we would inwardly mock him and then we would ignore his pleas.

My coach was never a leader. He wanted his words to be valued but he refused to value his words.

A true leader believes they have a value to share with others. They want to inspire others to evolve, to reach higher, and to find their true potential. True leaders know that words alone have a zero return value. True leaders live their words and not just say them.