The Road to Leadership

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.

Photo by Matt Duncan on Unsplash

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