By Saki T Nikodemus
IN my previous article on this all-important component of leadership, I made strong reference to the fact that true leadership comes with a price. The price of true leadership is very high.
This means the cup of true leadership is in most cases bitter – and unless you are willing to drink from it, you will never experience the height of life in your leadership manifestation.
I wish to submit to you that the higher the calling of leadership position, the greater the price it demands of you as the leader. In essence, this implies that your leadership position is directly related to the cup that you will have to take in your leadership. Therefore the most crucial and primary thing to motivate the individual to leadership must not be the position (no matter how prominent), but it must rather be the ability and desire to drink the cup that true leadership will demand of the individual aspiring for leadership.
It is rather sad that our contemporary leadership grossly violates and ignores this vital component – and yet the entire foundation of true leadership is built on it, ie the ability to count the cost of leadership.
I am convinced that it was with this in mind that Jesus Christ, the ultimate Leader, instructed His followers to count the cost, if they want to be part of His leadership, Luke 9. I must stress this truth with all sincerity, because our “brand” of leadership today has kicked out this component.
And what a tragedy.
I don’t want to necessarily disagree with the concept of democracy in leadership, but it is perhaps of utmost importance to note that it could be difficult to have true leadership as a product of democracy. Why? Because the principle of democracy hinges on “popularity”, based on what the majority is saying – through the ballot. So, if most of the people like you, they will choose you to be their leader.
But whether you have counted the cost, and whether you are able to drink the cup, it’s quite a different affair altogether.
I want to suggest that people could like you for a lot of different reasons as a leader, which may not necessarily involve the ability to pay the high price that true leadership demands. I believe we will produce more qualified leaders if we are bold and honest enough to take a careful look at our leadership selection criteria, and even change the indicators that we use to measure our leadership. Because what we are currently using is surely counting against our advantage.
We need leaders who genuinely understand that true leadership is not about self-elevation, self-glorification and self-gratification.
Gerald Brooks once stated, “When you become a leader, you lose the right to think about yourself”. And I am sure this is rather a strange paradigm and concept for most of our contemporary leadership. But yet this statement captures the essence of true leadership.
Unless you are willing to pay the price that true leadership demands, you will do yourself a disservice as a leader. You will keep beating below the belt. And very soon you will disqualify yourself as a leader.
History is a perfect living witness to this truth and experience. In my last article we focused on two aspects that all true leaders should be willing to pay, i.e. self-sacrifice and rejection. We will continue with the list, and in this article I wish to bring your attention to the following:
This is without doubt the most common price that all true leadership should be prepared to pay. I believe that all true leaders can identify with this reality. It is said that criticism is the leader’s greatest test of maturity, conviction and commitment to his/her vision.
Therefore, if you are ready for criticism, you are ready for leadership, and the opposite is also true. I must admit that the leadership in our African context often struggles to understand and appreciate the aspect of criticism in leadership. Our leadership often confuses criticism with dislike.
The implication being, if you like me as the leader, then you will not criticise me. However, criticism is a way of life for true leadership. No leader is exempt from it.
It will be helpful to perhaps understand that the very nature of effective leadership involves taking a position on issues and making decisions (sometimes unpopular decisions).
These spontaneously trigger some sort of reaction from the people around, which is usually negative. It should be understood that all true leaders are not affected by criticism.
They would rather use the storm of criticism to soar at even higher altitudes in their leadership.
I have seen leaders (and continue to see them every day), because of their unwillingness to pay the price of criticism, rather choose to do nothing.
They are so timid and so afraid to do something, because they want to appease and please everybody – which is unattainable in true leadership.
Somebody once commented, “The loneliest person today is the one who has been entrusted with a message, dream or vision – that is ahead of his time or conflicts with the accepted norm”.
All true leaders match this description. True leadership is often a lonely path, because to lead means you must be out in front, ahead of the followers. And the fact that the leader is the one with the guiding vision, he/she has to see the end from the beginning, and therefore must live both the process and the destination, all at the same time.
Despite the fact that good leaders delegate, they are also aware that there are decisions only they can make that will affect the lives of many.
And even though the life of a leader may be filled with many people, he/she often must tread a lonely path, for this is the price and nature of true leadership.
All great leaders, both women and men, who have changed their worlds for the better, and positively impacted their generations were lonely souls. And it is for this reason that I kept saying that if you always have to depend on others (either for company or opinion) to validate who you are as an individual, you are a very poor specimen of a leader.
We need leaders who are prepared to count the cost of true leadership. Leaders who have objectives that demand their whole-hearted commitment. Leaders who will say, “I am willing to stand in the gap, even if it means to be criticized by my contemporaries, and even if it means taking the road that is least travelled”.
The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson capture this point, “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something”.
All true leaders must be willing to give up something(s), i.e. your time, comfort, resources, security, etc. John C Maxwell, one of the seasoned gurus on the subject of leadership once stated, “If leaders have to give up to go up, then they have to give up even more to stay up.”