“Example is leadership.” Albert Schweitzer, M.D., Ph.D., Nobel Laureate

We are attending the memorial service for our nephew, Zachary Stevens, who is only 25 years old at the time of his tragic death, due to an automobile accident. .  His father, David, is my wife’s brother. Zack leaves other cherished immediate family members including his mother Cindy and sister Savannah.

The service is being held at the church he attended in his youth. Zack’s former pastor remembers him as a leader- one who led from among the group rather than out front. Heads nod when the minister mentions Zack’s infectious smile. He reminds us of a number of attributes, focusing on his wonderful kindness. You could not be with Zack for even five minutes without experiencing his goodness. Throughout his life, he was a joy to his parents, never giving them any problems. He loved his sister. His huge heart was full of gratitude. All who knew him were aware of these great qualities.

In reflecting on the inspirational service we had attended in a packed church just the day before, I mention to Carol an important leadership principle illuminated by the life of our nephew: Leadership is all about influence. You do not have to be in charge to impact another. No ‘position of authority’ requirement is ever needed.  Significant to the understanding and embracing of this philosophy is the knowledge that you can lead – even in difficult situations – with great power by the way you live . . . by example. Zack was such a leader.

We often hear different ‘be the example’ mantras: ‘Walk the talk;’ ‘Practice what you preach;’  ‘Do as I do, not just as I say.’ We expect those in power, in authoritative positions, to lead us by following these doctrines. We want our leaders to genuinely be the example. Here lies an opportunity that some would elevate to the level of responsibility.  What do you think?

Most of us, even those in positions of authority, spend the majority of our time in families and organizations where we are not the person in charge. And, it is specifically within this environment where the most important effects of leadership may take place. When the audience around us is not required to listen or follow, this becomes a greater challenge than if we were the person in charge. This environment is where Zachary often lived and where he always led us.

Most of us are engaged in multiple, one-on-one relationships. One such valid and vital example is marriage. It is in such intimate associations where the most important outcomes of leadership exist . . . when we have the opportunity, and possibly the responsibility, to help another person to be their best self. To assist another to realize their dreams. To support someone to be all of the person he fervently desires to be.

Zack was doing this in his work as a mortgage loan officer. He helped individuals and families to become first-time homeowners, routinely posting on Facebook many happy scenes with celebratory radiant smiles, on loan signing day – every picture indicative of his passion for what he was doing. There was a lot more behind his work than just a paycheck.

His coworkers saw this! His roommates saw this. His church saw this. At a very deep level his family knew what an incredible person he was. He changed lives simply by how he lived.

We will always miscalculate, by a large margin, the actual impact we have on others surrounding us. Our influence is enormous and always underestimated. Would Zachary have imagined such a huge crowd gathered in the church for his memorial service? Did he know about all the lives he powerfully affected in such a short period of time?  Because of his humility – another important leadership quality that he possessed – the answer would probably be a resounding “No!” He would be smiling because of such a large crowd honoring his young life, and he would be thankful to be part of it.

Do you want to grow in the knowledge and practice of leadership? Follow someone who is a leader. Find someone like Zachary Stevens and shadow them constantly, capturing what you learn, and then permanently internalize it.

It is not only in the places of great authority and position where we can change our world. More often it is where we are actually not the person in charge. The opportunities come in the routine seconds of each day – in quiet, silent moments or when we calmly and simply just do what is needed. When a soft spoken word makes a difference; when we do what is right; when it is tough to do the responsible thing, and when risk is involved in making the right decisions.

Zack, this kind of exemplary leader, was indeed wise beyond his years.  He led us often, not from the frontlines, but as one from among us. Without authority, he led us as one with great authority. He had enormous influence. He was inspirational. His farewell service was literally filled with people who are affected by his leadership. We want to be better people because of him and honor the way he lived his life. At its core, this is unequivocal, authentic leadership — Influence.

In most areas of your life, where you are not in charge, how are you leading? What impact are you having?

Leadership is influence.

Leaders inspire us.

Thanks, Zack!