In this post, I would like to share a few thoughts that occurred to me about what leadership is, versus what leadership is not.
This in my experience is what most people get wrong about leadership:
People think that being a leader means that you are better than the people you are leading. Because of this, I have seen many people pull down the people they are leading, so that they can assert their own superiority. Sometimes though, this is completely false. The thing that they are trying to pull you down in is something at which you actually excel – possibly excel far above their own level. Here is the thing though – following someone is completely voluntary. At any point the follower could walk away.
Let me try and make this personal – I always find it easier to talk from personal experience!
There have been a few times when I have been involved in a church, for instance. This has involved putting myself under someone else’s leadership. I will usually have made tremendous sacrifices of time, effort, sometimes money for the sake of supporting this ministry. And then the leader will come along, and then they will pull me down, in an area where I have invested lots of effort, and where I know that I am good, even outstanding. This has certainly happened to me in my life and I was so angry! I thought: “After all the effort I have invested, after all the sacrifices I have made!” That particular leader actually taunted me that I could leave, if I wanted to. And the entire attack just appeared from absolutely nothing. I honestly think that the pastor was acting out of insecurity, trying to assert his own superiority, and hence the legitimacy of his leadership, by pulling me down. And this church was so small! They really could not afford to be throwing away committed members. I thought to myself “Do you not appreciate what an asset I am to your church – as such a committed member? – Seriously?!”
of course eventually… after some reflection! And guess what?! After taunting me that I could leave, the pastor tried to get me back into the church – but without admitting that he had done anything wrong. Under the circumstances, even if an apology had been issued, I would not have gone back. But as it happens an apology was not issued. I do have to be fair to him and acknowledge that the whole thing seemed to be extremely uncharacteristic on his part. I deduced that it was caused by extreme stress. However, the circumstances within that particular church were somewhat awkward and I had already made up my mind beforehand that I would leave at the first hint of trouble. So ultimately I unceremoniously walked away without looking back.
Man, this is the kind of thing that makes me shake my head. And I have personally seen so many similar things. And so many of these things have been personally directed at me. So I can talk from strong experience. So then, leadership is not about pulling someone down to assert the fact that you are better than them. Is this not resounding common sense, that in that situation, someone could simply walk away, as I did walk away? And then reflecting on the tremendous sacrifices that I had made for that ministry made me angry enough to not want to have the slightest interaction with that ministry ever again.
So this is what I believe that leadership is:
Leadership is first and foremost about leading yourself. It is about looking within yourself to identify insecurities, possibly caused by the people you are leading, and dealing with these insecurities. As a person I like to think that I am generally free from insecurities caused by other people. And yet, over the course of the week I did meet someone who made me feel insecure. And I dealt with it! I recognise that it might be an ongoing thing, I might need to keep on dealing with it. But I am committed to doing that. If it comes to that awful point, where I actually have to admit to the person involved that they make me feel insecure, then I am ready to do that. I will ask them to be patient with me, and explain that I am just not used to dealing with it. I hope that by God’s grace something I will never do is to try to belittle them or mock at their efforts, for the sake of making myself look or feel better. If I knew that someone’s sacrificial efforts were making a huge contribution to my life and goals, I would never taunt them that they could leave, “if they liked”.
I honestly think that an honest approach to introspection, and an honest commitment to dealing with personal issues is the first and most important characteristic that contributes towards being a great leader. Otherwise if you let insecurity control how you interact with other people, then you would simply chase away the excellent people who would work for you, and alongside you. You would never be able to take charge over a great team, because your insecurities would constantly be playing up. In terms of leadership, you would be reduced to the level of leading people who are simply not good enough to make you feel insecure.
Most people want to be able to have the leadership, but without having to work on their character. Yes it is humbling and it is painful to have to admit these things even to ourselves, and even more so to admit them to other people. But unfortunately, this is the price of excellence. If you as a person want to achieve great things, then you will need a team of great people around you. As someone who could potentially be one of those great people on your team, all the humility in the world is not going to make me sit around to be insulted, and for my phenomenal efforts to be disdained.
So I believe that this is the single most important aspect to excellent leadership. As a person, I hope it is true that I would never let insecurity get in the way of my interaction with anyone. If anyone ever causes anything to arise in my heart, I hope I would have the honesty to look within myself to deal with it. This means, I hope, that I can interact with the most excellent people. Sometimes this will mean humbly putting myself in a position to learn from them. This also means, I hope, that I can always, always identify what is excellent in someone else, and celebrate it, instead of trying to pretend that it does not exist – as so many people do to me, for the things in which I excel. This also means that you are open to getting good ideas from other people. You don’t always need to shoot down other people’s ideas, just to prove that you are “better”, and that you are the one who “should” be the leader.
In addition to self-leadership, I think that being in leadership over a particular situation means that you can identify what is necessary, what needs to be done, and then under your leadership you can ask people to do these things. But I think that even in that true leadership involves being open to other people’s input, and truly listening. When you start commanding people around, that is when resentment starts building up.
One particular application to which this is relevant, that simply jumps out at me, is marriage. Yes I am single. However I am truly hoping that my husband will be the kind of person who applies phenomenal self leadership, so that he can always be surrounded by excellent people. I hope that he will be the kind of person who will listen, and who understands that while there will be many things and many areas in which he will effortlessly surpass me, there will also be areas in which I am naturally stronger. Just because he is the man does not mean he has to be better at everything. The fact that we can contribute different strengths to our union will help us be stronger altogether. Now of course I’m not going to sit here and simply hope, I am going to go out and do my best to deliberately find such a man!
So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart,
And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.
Photo of man wearing necktie by Unsplash on Pixabay