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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Leadership: What does it mean to you?

The big "L" word is being tossed around more violently than two puppies thrashing around their favourite chew toy. For some reason, the word leadership is being uttered on just about every street corner, on every talk show, every household I visit and used in virtually every social media post. It's like, everyone just recently found this new word and thus they must use it to its fullest. However, leadership is not a cheap word to be bandied about loosely. In fact, it is a very serious word in our topic of discussion that must be given the full attention it deserves.

From time immemorial, leadership has been a fundamental issue for societies, from government, to the church, to the household and to civic partnerships.

If we only go back as far as the Christian sacred text that many of us in the Caribbean lean on for our daily bread, the bible, one can see how leadership causes either prosperity or hardship for the people that leadership serve: From Nimrod and his infamously failed attempt at building a tower to stretch to the heavens to God, which can be interpreted as a metaphorical discussion about a man's failed attempt at attaining too much knowledge for his own good and being confused by his own understandings; to King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel, who went insane due to his own pride for over seven years, after having taken the kingdom of Babylon through one of it's most extensive periods of expansion and construction; or, one of the most famous biblical leaders of them all, King David, who was claimed to be a "man after God's own heart", who's acts of leadership, heroism and at the same time having a classical taste for the arts and for which he was a chief patron, was overshadowed by his acts of lust, extreme vengeance and an uncanny knack for winning and beating the odds at all cost, even if it meant he had to use a little "extra" leverage to accomplish his goals.

What these messages about leadership, from a biblical perspective, paint, is one obvious picture: Even great leaders have flaws. They all fall short. However, history is the one that tells the true encompassing story on their accomplishments and failures. And, while they all had flaws, their accomplishments will be remembered always in the context to which they were done in their time. No one, no leader, great or small, can escape the appraisal of the ones recording their story and tenure in leadership, because it is the following generation that writes the former's legacy. Not the other way around. No matter how long you live, or how much you feel you can live forever, you must die. You will die. It's just the truth.

The focus and challenge for us in contemporary times, dealing with leaders and the issue of leadership, is how do we encourage leaders to not be on the wrong side of history before they pass away to their eternal reward, or punishment, however you feel necessary to think about where they would end up based on their current behaviour at this time.

Too often, we are dazed with the mesmerizing glare of leadership before we are suckered into the problems of that dizzying glare and all that follows. It's like a championship prize fighter sweeping his left jab across his opponent's face, an opponent just happy to be in the ring with the proclaimed best fighter in the world and most likely one of his idols. Then that champion starts moving right, then moving left, shuffling and dancing, making his opponent stand in awe at how gifted he is and his mastery of technique and skills. Then, all of a sudden, the champion comes back with another sweeping, soft left jab but only this time having it followed up by a piston-like right hand to the side of the challenger's jaw that puts the challenger flat on his back. Out cold! Stretched out on the ring mat like a dead fish on the deck of a Boston Whaler, and not having seen what hit him and probably won't feel the pain of it all until the initial shock wears off after regaining full consciousness and feeling in his face.

To put it even more succinctly: It's a great flaw to become enamoured with people that claim leadership, but who are only really just the person in charge for the day, and also to be enamoured with persons who have done, quite literally, just the bare minimum requirement of the leg work to be in their position, and have provided very little in terms of quality leadership that moves the chains down the field, so to speak, to use an American Football analogy.

Leadership is much more than just being in charge, holding the keys to the store, telling someone what you feel they should do, or holding a title that says we must "respect" you for the title you have. That's not quite how that works, even though some slip past us under the radar.

As we have seen with at least two of the three biblical examples, King David and Nimrod, not every leader, the great ones and not so great, lead for the best interest of everyone in the short term. As with the example of King David in the short term, many colleagues and associates fell unjustly at his request. Or, as with the case of Nimrod whose foolish attempts at being an everlasting ruler, ended in literal chaos and the subsequent destruction of his dynasty, at his own hands and at the expense of his people.

With this understanding now, it is up to us, the followers, however counter-intuitive it may sound, to shape what it is we want leadership to do and keep them on that straight and narrow path.

So, as the initial title of this submission and question: What does it (leadership) mean to you? Are your short term goals being met, by virtue of your leadership, providing the access and avenues for those goals? Is there any inkling of your long term goals materializing to the point that you see a permanent way out for you and your kids and their kids?

You see? I'm trying to flip the script a little on this question of leadership. Flip the script away from the monotonous discussions on short-term failures or lack of an encompassing vision on behalf of individual leaders, and placing the role of leadership squarely on us. Us as in the people that look to leadership to provide that spark, that ray of hope or that light.

If your leadership sucks, then perhaps it is you that's the one that isn't aware of what to request from leadership, or your selection criteria of leadership needs revision.

Promoting this new notion of leadership, places the power back into our hands to either change the leadership, or encourages us to ask the right questions and then point supposed leaders in the right direction to get things done. The latter sounds counter-intuitive, right? However, leadership is a two way street. One cannot lead unless they have followers, and followers have a cause they are attracted to. One cannot be a follower unless one has a leader, and leaders are the chief follower of a cause who are uncannily propelled into action by those that have fragments of the issue or cause that needs to be crystalized into one package that only a few people have the capacity, ability, intelligence and inclination to formulate and articulate. Thus, one person must lead.

Sure, there is a term called "team-leadership", but more often than not there is always one deciding voice that makes or breaks the core decision down to its workable essence. Always!

So, I ask again, after having read my take on the matter and reading what my core essence of leadership is: What does leadership mean to you now?

Before you go ahead and blame weak, oppressive, indecisive, tone-deaf, fraudulent, wicked, deceitful, flaccid, corrupt, neglectful, uncaring, intrusive, childish, churlish and spineless leadership, and any other manner of adjectives and mixture of those adjectives you can ascribe to your leadership, really ask yourself: What is it that leadership means to me? What do I wish to be led on? What do I want from this relationship? Does this person cut the mustard? Are they effective in motivating me with their grasp of the issues and causes? Are they just mimicking what it is I want to hear, regurgitating my fears word for word, without telling me anything new? Are they articulating different aspects of the issue, cause or problem to me, at the very least? Have they failed even before I am willing to give them a chance? Ask yourself! For your own good.
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