(In my opinion, some of my titles are quite clever, while others are more blatantly obvious. This is one of the latter.)
I’ve been thinking for a while now about writing out my thoughts on leadership: namely, how to be a great leader. Having been in a leadership position since I was a freshman in high school, the idea of leadership is something that greatly interests me, and I spend much time thinking on how I can be a better leader. Since it is now summer (yayayaya!!!), I have the time to put my thoughts on metaphorical paper.
So this, my friends, is the first of several posts (the exact number of which is as yet undecided) in which I will unpack what I think it takes to make a great leader (together with well-known examples from fiction and/or real life).
First, let me say that most things can be boiled down to this one super important point: Be humble. Seriously. If you are humble, chances are you’ll make a pretty good leader. Now, in the context of leadership, humility can be a misunderstood thing, so I’ll take a couple posts to look at this more deeply.
Here are the first parts of humble leadership:
1. Don’t love power. Stories are full of villains who, though they may have great leadership skills, turned evil because they craved more and more power: Saruman and Sauron from Lord of the Rings, Darth Vadar from Star Wars, Nazim from Prince of Persia, Scar from The Lion King, practically any villain from a superhero story.
This is a fairly obvious one, yet it is one we often do not see in ourselves. Think to yourself, why are you in leadership? Is it to help others? Or is it because part of you, no matter how well hidden, really likes that feeling of control?
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo and Gandalf have a talk in which Frodo expresses a desire to have never been given the responsibility of leadership in a dark, dangerous time. Gandalf wisely responds, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
We need to be like Frodo, not covetous for power, not eager for the authority, but willing to do what we can to make the world a better place. Otherwise, we’ll turn into people like Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, so wrapped up in gaining and preserving power that we ruin people’s lives.
2. Know how and when to delegate. This point ties in with the previous one, in that, if you love power, you will not give any to others. Still, it deserves its own attention.
I recently saw The Avengers with my family, and one of the things that stuck out to me (***spoiler alert***) their choice of following Captain America’s leadership in the movie’s final battle. Despite his super strength, incredible healing abilities, and super-human good looks, Captain America’s skills are, in my opinion, the least impressive of the group—though still INCREDIBLY AWESOME, just not quite on the same level as Thor (demigod who wields lightning and an awesome hammer), Iron Man (genius whose invention does his every desire), etc. Yet this very Captain was an amazing leader—and the first thing he did, was assign his fellow leaders jobs perfectly suited to their skills. He knew he could not do everything, or be everywhere. But he trusted those following his lead, and sent them out with full assurance in their abilities.
It takes a very mature person to trust others to do something. It means surrendering absolute control over everything, and actually growing up and admitting you are not everything. At the same time, doing so builds up those following you, training them to be better leaders. Yes, it can be a scary and sometimes disappointing step to take, but in the end, it is so much better for everyone involved—and you’re not running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Then, your task becomes more of a motivator than a do-everything-er. Like King Theoden before the battle at Gondor, you must give others motivation to do well, spurring them on to do what they can do.
3. LISTEN. That is in all caps, because it is so hard for us to hear. It is easy to talk and talk and talk and talk. It is incredibly difficult to listen to what others have to say, especially when it is someone giving you advice. As leaders, we like to think we have all the answers. The truth is, we’re humans. We make mistakes. We don’t always realize our own mistakes.
So when someone comes to you and shares a concern or advice, LISTEN. They just may surprise you by having something intelligent to say, something that you, genius that you are, didn’t think of. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Proverb 19:20). And let me just say, as someone who’s been on both sides of the picture, giving and receiving advice, what the adviser says probably is scarily true, and it really harms people’s trust in your leadership abilities when you do not listen to their sincere concerns.
The best good example I could think of for a leader who listened to others was Harry Potter. He was a leader who sought and listened to wisdom from others: Dumbledore, Hermione, Prof. Lupin, Sirius Black, Luna Lovegood, etc. And that is a huge part of what made him a great leader, because otherwise, he probably would have ended up getting even more people killed and being dead himself.
That’s all for today, folks. What are your thoughts? Do you have any specific things you think are vital characteristics of a great leader? Any examples of great leaders who can be held up as examples?