Good Leadership Brings Freedom

Sustaining freedom requires our commitment to act responsibly and in the best interests of our team and the community.

Not long ago, one of my colleagues and I met over coffee and we dove quickly into a topic that was bothering her.

She asked, “Why did a trusted friend on her leadership team begin wrecking everything by acting contrary to their stated beliefs and the against the best interests of the group they were entrusted to lead?

We explored her struggle to understand her responsibility in changing the direction of the individual and her responsibility to the organization. We were both curious to see if we could also tease out the root cause of the trouble.

She explained that while the person seemed to be supporting their group well, they increasingly had challenges with their peers, pressured people to get their own way, and when they could not influence people, they resorted to doing their own thing regardless of group norms, prior agreements, or other peoples’ feelings.

She discovered the individual was making decisions they did not have authority to make which placed the mission at risk. The person had effectively left the team by their decisions already so she formalized it by moving them off her leadership team.

As a leader accountable for the results of the organization, my colleague didn’t understand how she could have let it get this far as to threaten the entire group.

She had many questions to explore:
• Was it her fault that the individual was acting this way?
• Since she was their biggest advocate for the role, what did that say about her judgement?
• Should she have acted sooner?
• Aren’t people allowed to fail?
• Why didn’t they take responsibility when confronted with the facts?

Was there a root cause that was driving the behavior?


Freedom requires responsibility and demands that we restrain ourselves, while license leads to each person doing what they think is the right thing resulting in disorder and chaos.

People who take license reject their responsibility to others and instead give in to their personal ambition. Ultimately they find themselves in opposition to freedom as they look to impose their will on others.

The shepherd leader instead sees leadership in terms of their responsibility to others. In fact, good leadership sets people free to release their talents and skills that benefit teams and communities.

The problem:   in my colleague’s case is that a member of her team confused freedom with license.

Freedom and license must not be confused: freedom embraces responsibility and is guided by reason and virtue; license is choice without restraint

How to steer our teams towards freedom

  • Freedom requires good character in order to keep it (hire people that do right when no one is looking)
  • Receive feedback regularly (broaden our line of sight)
  • Timely reflection (increase self-awareness about how our behaviors impact people)