As we go through our daily lives, we witness many who have been given, assumed, or chosen a role of leadership. This diversity of positions can be as intimate as a parent-child relationship or as broad as the individual leading the county where you live. Many leaders we observe active in their leadership roles possess an ability to move us to tremendous achievements; they create in us a desire to serve. Other leaders have styles that lack the ability to stir us toward the common good, often leaving followers in bewilderment. These ineffective leaders are incapable of finding true followers or believers, yet may have tactics to force their agenda upon supposed followers. So is it the position, power, or is it the person? I want to make the argument power and position can be used, but true leaders use neither. Effective leaders need nothing but themselves to move us to the common good.
We have seen examples of position or even power where the individual is suppressed by fear of a leader’s threat, the exercise of control, or unrighteous dominion. Saddam Hussein may have given us the best model for an oppressive leadership style. Through his leadership, he instilled the fear of death in anyone who did not support his way and held any differing thoughts or views at bay. The question is, did he have the hearts or respect of his followers? No, in fact, it was interesting for me to observe the fall of Hussein and how he instantaneously lost his following when they knew he was captured and held by the US. This example is extreme, but the tactic used is often replicated by ineffective leaders on a smaller scale.
Position, as in politics, where a leader can hold something over an individual’s head to gain support, may be more prevalent in our society. An example might be a politician offering support to an individual’s cause in trade for support on legislation; often, the two subjects are not correlated. This was recently done in the US Congress, where a Senator offered needed funding to gain votes on legislation. Another simpler example may be when an individual is seeking a position or an office and the leader in power asks for support on a personal issue in trade. In these examples, the leader is, in fact, moving toward an objective and has led groups in the direction contemplated but lacks true support. When the power of position is lost, those who may have appeared to criticize openly. Politicians who have used power, you would think, are astounded when they leave office and no longer have any influence. Too, leaders in business or for an organization, who have used positions for the power, should have the same feelings of astonishment when after their years of service are gone; they no longer have the persuasive personality they thought they had.
So what is true leadership, and how can one accomplish persuasion in moving people to accomplishment without exploitation of power?
Let me suggest leaders who have the hearts of their followers enjoy traits similar to these: humility, love of mankind, respect for individuals, knowledge of their own skills, a servant’s heart, gentleness, and meekness. I will attempt to touch on each of these but first understand it is my belief a true leader, who holds any position, does so without seeking or aspiring to that place for the honor of mankind; but does so to better an individual, a group, or the world. Leaders with part, all, or any combination of these character qualities will have believers, followers, and loyalty from everyone they touch.
Humility I put first as it is paramount to any success, not only as a leader but in life. A leader who is humble understands it is the talents held, opportunities given, and the trust obtained that allow for the creation of self-esteem. Self-esteem is necessary to lead but can’t develop into pride. All positive influence is lost when the individual begins to think they alone are the instrument necessary for success, thus allowing pride to enter their personality. This process leads down the road of compulsion or abuse of position.
When we feel the love of a leader, knowing within our soul they are devoted to our well-being, admiration is reciprocated through our willingness to understand the reasoning for objectives. Our loyalty often extends beyond the leader’s responsibilities and throughout life, as their experience benefits our continued growth. Loving another comes directly from an appreciation of the value everyone holds in life.
Have you ever felt moved by someone you did not believe had your best interest at heart? Are you open to ideas and thoughts from someone you think disapproves of who you are or what you represent? How often have we misunderstood someone’s point of view due to our lack of understanding? Every person in every condition deserves our respect and has the right to be treated fairly. A leader can see through the mud of prejudice and see the person as an individual. A leader can and will seek understanding through diversity. It doesn’t require lowering standards or beliefs; it mandates that input is needed from all perspectives for decisions to be correct.
There is no individual with the capability, personal knowledge, or skill to understand all necessary for our individual or collective betterment. Leaders understand their weaknesses and appreciate the need to fill in the gaps with trusted advisors. They are not threatened by surrounding themselves with smarter, more talented people. The only way to come to an understanding of what is best, what unintended consequences may be, or how to aspire to new and greater heights; leaders must use all available talent.
If you were picking an athletic team to participate in a sport, wouldn’t you want to fill as many positions as possible with people who had experience? To complete an assignment requiring multiple participants at work, wouldn’t you want to select those who understood? In life, when we have a problem or concern, don’t we naturally solicit understanding from one who is familiar with our needs? The best leader is someone who is an outrageous follower. Leaders understand it is not they who achieve but the collection of all thoughts and desires. A true leader is one who is the greatest servant and is willing to give their all to others. One who is anxious to get in with others and muscle through objectives. One who will openly give praise to others and never seek the admiration of those for whom they lead.
There will be times a leader must reprove and do so to correct unacceptable behavior. The reproof must then be followed by exhibiting love and showing the gentleness of understanding. Sternness, when needed, is not inappropriate if followed by an exhibition of caring. These times of reprisal are times of learning when appropriately used. For a leader to gain appreciation from their followers, they must understand their leader’s heart is gentle. Meek addresses the fact a leader knows it is not them alone as an individual who is responsible for success; it is the collective whole of all involved.
We want our leaders to be confident and have high self-regard; they are our mentors. True leaders are individuals we want to emulate. They teach us about the greatness we have inside, bringing out our abilities; allowing us to be better for having known them. A true test of one’s ability to lead comes from respect while leading, fruits of service, and continued admiration after the title is gone.