“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘we did it ourselves.’ “ — Lao Tzu
I never thought that embarking on a discussion about what comprises a leader would be such a troublesome and diverse subject. Perhaps for some, its definition is too vague. There are many kinds of leaders as well as countless ways to lead. However, tackling this in the present day is not something which should be reflected upon lightly.
I’ll admit that when approaching this subject, I jump right to the front and discuss those leaders whose responsibilities are greatest. For example, the ones mainly found in political and military arenas – where one decision can affect the lives of thousands of people. This kind of leadership comes with the most solemn and earnest responsibilities.
Even at this level, there are different styles of leadership. Some are quiet and deliberate; speaking only when required. Others may take a more vocal and demonstrative approach. It is a fine balance of understanding yourself and knowing how to inspire others to do more than they ever believed they could.
In the opening quote, Lao Tzu wisely writes when the best leader’s work is done, those being led say they did it themselves. This is precisely the way I’d love to see every description of leadership be depicted. While it may not be possible in every situation, it surely is an outcome all great leaders would be thrilled to have purported about them.
I hadn’t known much about this Ancient Chinese Philosopher but while researching this quote, there were several others which he characterized leaders as being in the background and focusing more on the people being led. Another of his well-known quotes states: “To lead people, walk behind them.”
When the attention is being focused on the flock rather than the leader, it shows those very same supporters they are important. Their efforts are going to the betterment of so much more than only to the one in charge. When leaders walk behind, it allows them to see progress and more importantly, foresee any grave concerns which may lie on the trail ahead. It may not always be possible to lead from behind but when it is, it’s a definite sign you truly are hoping to earn the trust of those in your care.
Is it possible that many of us are assessing leadership from the wrong perspective? Certainly it’s up to each one of us to decide what a leader can do for us, but is this really the best way to determine who the next person in charge ought to be? If this were the case, wouldn’t it place far too many arbitrary demands on the person vying for this position?
A leader is not defined on what that person can do for us, yet so many take the position that leaders are more of a savior or rescuer when that is not their objective. We should not anticipate or expect one person to snap his or her fingers and everything is changed. Life will be better and all the hurdles on our journey will be no more difficult than stepping over a pebble. This is possibly the worst illusion anyone could formulate.
Of all the leaders who have ever snapped their fingers and created such a dynamic change it was probably due to the fact they were monarchs or authoritarians. People only have this power when we give it to them, or it is unduly taken away from us.
Distinct leaders throughout human history are remembered for various reasons but first and foremost, it was for interceding for those who were oppressed. The vulnerable people who were deceived by others claiming to be leaders while taking away those very freedoms they lied to protect. Regrettably, leadership is also a position where with only a small, concerted effort, it can be used as a force for tyranny just as easily as a tool of fairness and justice.
Every person wants those in authority to be fair and impartial to their best abilities; providing equal opportunities as much as possible for the entire group. By choosing someone who is partial to you, how much responsibility and work are you hoping to alleviate for yourself? The purpose of a leader is not to make your life better while at the same time more effortless and advantageous for you. Imagine for a moment if the proverbial shoe were on the other foot, how badly duped you would feel.
Any aspiring leader should not tell you they alone can only do the job. Most who step into a leadership position hesitate and are nervous because they grasp the enormity of the position. One unintended mistake could negatively impact or even cost a life, and no one wants to have this scenario weighing heavily on their minds.
What may be a better way of looking at leadership is to be or live that kind of life you would expect from anyone leading you. Walk in those same steps and command from yourself the same ideals you’d expect from leaders. It’s an effective way to begin to understand the kinds of demands a leader must surmount. If you believe a leader ought to be held accountable for his or her actions, then live to that same standard yourself. If integrity, honesty, and fairness are what you demand from a leader, then command those very same traits from yourself.
Each of us has opportunities during the day to lead by example. From the smallest acts of kindness to large acts of charity, being a living example is the best reminder to yourself of the kind of leader you hope to see.
This week make a pact that you’ll exude and emanate the qualities you want to see in a leader. Search for those experiences when you can lead by walking behind others. It’s possible that others may see you as the potential leader you can become.