New Leaders

I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.” – Lao Tzu

The road to leadership is fraught with obstacles. Some of those obstacles are externalities, but the overwhelming majority of the challenges faced by new leaders are actually internally rooted in the heart and habits of the leader himself.

When a new leader steps into a position of leadership he is immediately faced with forces – visible and invisible, constructive and destructive, discouraging and encouraging – inherent in the people and the situation at hand. He must observe, assess and work with these forces, and much of his time will likely be spent on balancing them, so that the dissipative forces don’t overrun the generative.

The biggest challenge to a new leader is to get out of himself while meeting these forces. This is especially important because the negative forces at work – the destructive habits, character flaws, attitudes and approaches present in the other participants – will exert tremendous pressure on his own immaturities.

The negative forces come in two primary guises: the first, antagonistic and the second, collusive. The former will grate against his own immaturities, rub him the wrong way and push his buttons, while the latter will offer ready agreement with anything that he has judged to be unworthy, annoying or weak in the situation or in others.

To lead, he must not allow himself to be fooled into reaction to the former or agreement with the latter. He must take note of, but rise above his personal feelings about the situation and those involved. The worse thing he can do is to let himself become inveigled in a tug-of-war with either his feelings or the forces at work in the situation. He must find the way to put as many of the resources in himself and others to work in the accomplishment of his aim. Blame, anger, frustration and accusation on the one hand, and self-pity on the other will only halt his progress.

A common mistake of a new leader is to assume that how he saw the situation and those present in the situation as a participant (prior to leading) is accurate and balanced. He fails to understand that his new position can provide him with a fresh and often more complete perspective on both people and things were he to give it time to appear, so he dives in arrogantly and impulsively, trying to sort everything out at once. Anyone who has successfully untangled a rope, let alone several of them that had become intertwined, eventually came to the realization that pulling hard on every loose end in sight only tightens the knot.

To my mind, the best thing a leader can do for himself and for those who are unfortunate to be his test bunnies is to be gentle, to approach with caution, to be generous and forgiving with those around him and last, but certainly not least, to approach his new and likely tenuous position with utmost humility.

The best leaders become so not because of their intelligence or charm, but because of their humble willingness to admit and grow swiftly through their own limitations of vision, perspective and ability – while simultaneously, graciously, patiently and wisely assisting those around them to do the same.

9 thoughts on “New Leaders

  1. David R

    This is such an excellent summary, either for an aspiring leader or for one whose responsibility is to inspire other leaders. It, takes some rather uncommon sense to overcome and to rise above the various pitfalls that inevitably arise, but so much is made easier by a fundamental empathy and kindness, the ability to see it from someone else’s perspective, and the willingness to go the longer route sometimes, rather than jamming things through. We can learn and we should mature, both of which are certainly facilitated by ongoing humility!


  2. James

    Hi Gregg,

    Wow, such powerful timing for me today, this is exactly the conversation I have been having with myself for what seems like months. I likely need to pin this post to the inside of my eyeballs.

    It is so easy to fall for all of those internal and external pressures, allowing blame, self pity and other erroneous forces to take hold. Not so easy to stay in the moment and think of the benefit of others first, and consistently.

    Thanks so much for your consistency in putting this kind of value into the world.




  3. Steve V

    It is something to recognize that every person is a leader for someone else whether they know it or not. It is good to acknowledge the role of leadership each of has as an inherent part of ourselves and live accordingly in the maturation of mastery of it. Thank you for your help in this process.


  4. Zach

    The path to leadership seems to be a process that has two distinct pieces growing simultaneously: managing yourself and managing other people. You can’t have one without the other, and if one outpaces the other, or responsibility outpaces established capability, there will be issues until equilibrium is restored.

    Self-mastery is vital to leadership. If a leader does not have control over themselves, their attitudes and actions, they will be subject to any pressures that will inevitably come along. Self-mastery is also the key to managing other people and the resources they provide, as well. For true leadership to work, and to foster the environment where smart, capable people are willing to give you their best, a leader must be more concerned about growth of those they are attempting to lead rather than their own ego. They must be willing to inspire, and never willing to give in to the pressures that will inevitably come when that inspiration is burgeoning.

    In short, a leader must be brutal on themselves and forgiving with those whom they seek to lead.


  5. Chuck Reddick

    There are major differences between Management and Leadership. Perhaps the clearest definition in the way of comparison that I have seen is that managers “get things done right” while leaders “do the right thing”, with both being accomplished through the efforts of other people. To me a Genuine Leader is one who is consistently focused on adding value in any given situation and circumstance regardless of their personal feelings. They do not sit in judgment but instead reside in great humility. They truly strive to make a difference to those who allow them to, always with an eye on doing the right thing. The impact of managers comes and goes, and is largely forgotten afterwards, but the impact of and value provided by a genuine leader is never forgotten.


  6. Lady Leo

    Its usually very interesting to observe a new manager take over a department or a new owner of an established business. My particular career has involved me in this on a daily basis. The very successful ones do tend to stand back and access how it works before any changes are made. The ones that move through quickly, often at the end feeling they just discovered they’re not built to be a manager, started with the axiom; I don’t care what’s been done in the past I’m going to put my stamp on it. Those words and attitude are always the kiss of death to the endeavor. Humilty is a perfect stance to adopt to put the odds in favor of a success. Wonderful post, thank you.


  7. Ricardo B.

    These words truly ring a bell. And, thinking about it some more, they are applicable in a wide variety of circumstances. If you broaden the common definition of a leader into one who desires the most harmony around himself and lives to work towards that, then given that harmony involves collective cooperation, a leader can be anyone, anywhere. Even if you were stranded on an island, you would want to pay attention for you have to lead yourself effectively to survive.

    We all have countless opportunities to approach things with the attitudes you mention. I know what you are talking about, because the knee-jerk tendency is to tighten up and exert a strained, reactionary force on the situation. If you are the least bit hot-headed, this will just get magnified – been there! After all, you see what’s wrong in the situation so you have to correct it, right? However, if also you can be just the least bit still in all of this, you can/will/should sense that you are wrong in taking that attitude. Something just doesn’t jive, and it does take humility to recognize that, that though you were treated unfairly or that you see the problem ‘out there’ somewhere, the attitude you are taking with all the feelings that come with it – anger, impatience, intolerance – is just not right. I am no expert in this, I am just sharing my personal experience, one of which was just around the corner.

    Having taken a step back and allowed time and space to settle me down, I saw and felt the person in the midst of all of their own struggles and I immediately empathized with them. The power of forgiveness moved right through me, and in an instant, it was done – finished. I no longer had any feeling of being ill-treated (oh poor me!) and knew the right way to deal with this was just to let things develop, cooperate and contribute to further harmony around. After all, it’s not as if the world centers around me, you know. We really do tend to take ourselves too seriously sometimes 🙂

    Anyways, a bit long-winded but I wanted to share a real example of how valuable these insights are to me, as I just want to be free to move along in my life. All these misguided entanglements and reactionary bad habits do is just weigh you down, surrounding you in emotional quicksand. Appreciate the patient guidance!


  8. Kierney

    This is such an excellent example of leadership, and especially new leadership. Patience, kindness, respect, graciousness and trust are essential to be a great leader. You can’t force your position or you have just become a dictator. All leaders should have those three precious qualities that Tolstoy mentioned as top priority. Regardless of stress, pressures of the day, how people act or react, our job as leaders is to remain constant and true to our highest vision!


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