Leadership: backing down to step up
To lead is to be loved. At least, such is the notion under which our society tends to operate.
In order for someone to be a great leader, we think they have to rise up to this expectation of pleasing everyone and being the culmination of what people envision.
Being a leader is based far too much on personality and image, which, when it comes down to it, have very little to do with the actual act of leading.
The concept of leadership has become misconstrued to the point where it is now centered on the leader’s persona itself. The focus has drifted away from what they can actually do for the population.
This is evident in the kinds of election campaigns we tend to see.
In the 2008 election, the campaigns usually centered around the personalities of the two candidates, rather than focusing on their potential solutions to the issues of the time (not that those issues have gone away by any means).
These cut-throat campaigns often become concentrated on the candidates, rather than on the needs of the population.
Today’s leaders care far too much about their approval ratings and getting re-elected.
This principle of focusing on where they stand with their followers applies to more than just public officials, however; leaders at all different levels in the community maintain this inappropriate value and allow it to govern their decisions.
In his essay, “Leader as Servant,” Robert Greenleaf wrote that, "The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead … The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”
To assume the mantle of leadership means undertaking the risk of being criticized and disliked for the sake of doing what is right, though it may be unpopular.
The fact of the matter is, those who have been placed in such positions are usually more equipped than those they have been assigned to serve.
But with knowledge and experience comes the responsibility for these sometimes-pedantic people to not cave to the whims of the masses for the sake of their own popularity.
This mentality has enormous benefits. If it is maintained, people will eventually experience the long-term benefits of the personal forfeit such a leader must undergo.
Larry Spears, the Chief Executive Officer of The Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership, wrote that, “Many of the companies named to Fortune magazine’s annual listing of ‘The 100 Best Companies to Work For’ espouse servant-leadership and have integrated it into their corporate cultures.”
But regardless of whether they see the fruit of their labor or not, they will be remembered for their dedication to servitude.
To be a leader is and rightfully should be an enormous sacrifice because it means potentially giving up popular approval for the sake of serving those under them.
Reach the columnist at Julianna.Roberts@asu.edu