Post 323

Not What You Think It Is:
Reflections on Leadership

There is this wildly misguided notion that you can identify future leaders by looking for certain traits. This is the thinking behind ‘leadership’ awards, which are given out in university, high school, and sometimes earlier.

The person or people in charge of predicting the future always look for the same thing. In addition to looking at grades (which are often heavily affected by teachers’ personal tastes in students), people look for a student who has participated in a wide variety of approved activities, by which I mean membership in clubs, teams or other organizations which have a certain level of recognition and respectability. Award-givers are keen on public speaking and debate clubs especially, and they like any activity which seems related to government, such as attendance at events where everyone pretends to be a member of parliament/congress. By extension, anyone who has actually spoken at an actual government assembly is seen, almost conclusively, as a leader.

Now because most leadership awards involve an application process, you can see that predicting a future leader leans heavily in favour of preferring the people who prefer themselves: we reward people who ask to be rewarded. After all, such leadership designations and awards don’t generally fall from the sky. Most award-granting processes require applicants to promote themselves as extraordinary, outstanding individuals who DO MORE than everyone else. DOING MORE than everyone else is supposedly what you need to lead your peers into the future. I question this notion and the entire process, and I would go so far as to say that if a leadership award is in fact given to a real future leader, that would be a miraculous coincidence. These leadership awards are generally exercises in creative writing (by the scholarship-hungry parents), not to mention advance planning — which activities will make me look well-rounded?

Incidentally, this obsession with ‘doing more’ continues into adulthood. I see adults who are spreading themselves very thin in order to belong to every organization under the sun. They are on their community council, leading a church group, volunteering for the festival, hosting a book club, collecting donations for the whatever drive, all while managing their day job, their ‘side hustle,’ their art class, and their Instagram following. What on earth are they trying to prove? That they would be a terrific candidate for political office? That they are living life to the fullest? Yikes. Stay home with your children for a change. Don’t be on display in “the community” or elsewhere. Don’t obsess about your involvement and your accomplishments. Settle down.

True leaders aren’t like this. True leaders don’t do more for the sake of doing more, for the sake of puffing up a resume or a LinkedIn profile. A true leader is distinguished not by an extensive list of activities or even abilities. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a single ability that is necessary for leadership. And it goes almost without saying that a true leader is distinguished not by background or connections.

A true leader is distinguished by a deep empathy for those who need a leader. A true leader wants to bring something good to those who need or want it. Compassion and love for others motivates a true leader. Bonum diffusum sui. Out of this love, a leader will be ready to seek the most effective means to achieve the desired end. And this is how leaders often become leaders in the first place. Alphonsus scans the room and sees that nobody else is doing what needs to be done, so he does it, and, lo and behold, a leader is born. He has the right attitude. Maria wants to help the others accomplish a task, and since she is willing to show the others how to do it, she becomes their leader.

Genuine leadership is about willingness to take up a challenge when others need you. So a person can ‘accidentally’ become a leader, much to his or her own surprise. You see, a desire to help is enabling. A desire to help creates leaders.

Thus it is almost impossible to predict who is going to be a leader, because it is almost impossible to predict who is going to want to help in the future. For this reason, it is largely pointless to identify certain people as The Leaders of Tomorrow. Most “leaders of tomorrow” go on to live selfish lives pursuing personal wealth, comfort, thrills, prestige, and power.

You don’t know who the leaders will be.

The leaders will come out of nowhere. They will be those who were in your midst, who allowed you to ignore them and sidestep them while you continued on. They will be the ones who seemed to fade into the background while you were headed for the spotlight. They will be the ones who made things easier for you, and who cheered for you. They will be the ones who brought you good news, the ones who were happy for you when you were happy and who were sad when you suffered unjustly. They will be the ones who advocated for you and who made sacrifices of their time and energy for you. They will be the ones who loved you.

A true leader empathizes with others and sacrifices himself or herself.

A true leader gives more than anyone else.

A true leader does not fear competition or rivals, and therefore a true leader always chooses the best helpers available. Only a bad leader intentionally surrounds himself with people who are incompetent or unmotivated.

A true leader is unafraid of new ideas, and knows that good ideas can come from anywhere. (All ideas which are truly good have the same divine source.)

A true leader is willing to take chances, and is willing to look foolish if that’s what it takes.

A true leader uses new approaches all the time, adapting himself or herself to suit the needs of the people. (St. Paul writes that he becomes everything for everyone.)

A true leader cares more about the success of others and the project than his or her own fame, because the true leader never has self-glorification as an aim. At the same time, if fame becomes part of the package, a true leader gracefully accepts that.

A true leader does not forget all of the help he or she received. A true leader remembers both small deeds and big deeds which made the journey easier.

A true leader understands that the first and final author of any success worth having is God. Without God, what could be accomplished? It is God who gives our eyes the power to see, our lips the power to speak, our hands the power to move. Without God, the sun wouldn’t shine and the earth wouldn’t sustain us. We wouldn’t exist.

So it is to God that first and final praises must go. He is the one who inspires, who encourages, and who brings to completion. He is the one who gives light to our minds and inspiration to our souls. How can we even give ourselves any credit at all, really? How can we congratulate ourselves, when all the while he was behind us, ahead of us, and beside us, giving us everything we needed to succeed?

May His Name be Praised!

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matt. 9:36