It’s not easy being a leader. Anyone who thinks it is has never been a leader. Leadership comes with perks, but it also requires considerable talents. Chief amongst these talents is the ability to recognise and use the strengths and leadership skills of others.
Yet many leaders fail to internalise this lesson. They think being the ‘head honcho’ means that only they can shine and stand out. They’re easily threatened by strong people and allow ego to get in the way of achievement. They fail to empower others to lead, thereby failing to reach their own leadership potential.
In fact, some leaders actively disempower their subordinates. They manipulate and sow conflict, leaving themselves to act as ultimate judge and jury. To maintain control, such unscrupulous leaders may make sudden changes to people’s tasks at work, leaving them destabilised and discouraged. They reign by creating a climate of fear and mistrust, making outcasts of anyone who doesn’t play by their rules.
Yet true leaders know the real crux of leadership, that you must empower others to lead; and groom suitable candidates to take your place. No one ever leads or stays in the same position forever, nor should they ever want.
One of the best examples of leadership can be found in US President, Barack Obama. Following a bruising Presidential race that left both Barack and Hillary politically wounded, Obama did not relegate his erstwhile nemesis to the political wilderness. Instead, he brought a strong, determined, smart, and potentially dangerous opponent into the fold, giving her a high-profile role in his Administration. He empowered Secretary of State Clinton to carry out her role unfettered, the mark of a true leader.
In fact, in almost every appointment following his historic win in 2008, Obama didn’t simply reward loyalty to his own political brand. He chose women and men of substance to do the work, then got out of their way. That, is how a so-called ‘inexperienced’ leader became Forbes Magazine’s choice for the most powerful man on the planet, 2012.
Consider also a much earlier example, from Biblical times. Here, we’re confronted with the story of Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas was an exemplary leader, who believed in Paul before anybody else did. He “…brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:27). Barnabas didn’t wait to see which way the wind would blow before endorsing Paul. He took a chance and empowered him.
But most of us are afraid to sing the praises of our colleagues. We see success as limited; and think there’s not enough to go around. Sometimes, even if we’re not openly negative about people, when their names come up, we become sullen, registering our silent disapproval of them.
Others of us lead teams and while we may be happy enough delegating menial tasks, we’re afraid of exposing our subordinates to our superiors, for fear they might outshine us.
What we ought to realise is, all of our insecurities exist only in our own minds. While we don’t have the power to control what other people do, we do have the power to control how we react. We can choose to feel empowered, by not being threatened by others’ talents.
As a matter of fact, we should go a step further and actively help others to grow. When Paul became an unwitting target for unbelievers; and was sent to Tarsus to keep a low profile, he could have faded into obscurity had Barnabas not been a good leader. Instead, when Barnabas was assigned to help the church in Antioch, he partnered with Paul, teaching him what he knew and enabling him to fulfil his own God-given destiny as a leader. But some people would rather take their expertise with them to the grave, rather than share it.
When was the last time you played a meaningful role in helping someone reach their potential? Do you take the time to see and trumpet the strengths of others, even when you have no real reason to?
Whenever you feel hesitant to help and empower others, ask yourself this simple question: ‘what if it was me?’ If the tables were turned, what would I want them to say about me; or do for me? That answer will always lead you to do the right thing.
When we empower others, we’re not just helping them, we are helping ourselves. We’re sowing the seeds for further blessings for ourselves. In future, someone will help us when we most need it, or bless a member of our family at a crucial moment.
People never forget those who empower and help them. It’s not that we should only help others with a view to how we may benefit ourselves. It is that the law of karma; the law that like-attracts-like, is always at work in our lives, whether we believe in it or not. We always reap what we sow.
Yet most of us continue to undervalue others while overvaluing ourselves. We’re afraid someone will steal our limelight or might even, some day, replace us. We forget that as human beings, we won’t even want to be in the same place forever. Our natural trajectory is growth and improvement.
None of us should see any job or position as being ‘for life,’ or even for the long-term. All of us should know that no matter how good we have it now, we can always do better; and we should!
This week we celebrated Africa Day. Rightly or wrongly, our continent is seen as having something of a dearth in leadership. Do your part! Take a step to cultivate leadership, or help someone grow. Mentor someone; it’s one of the most rewarding things you could ever do.
Sow that seed, because when we add value to others, our own value becomes immeasurable!