Managing any group of people is a difficult and complicated task.
Leadership skills are rare. Unfortunately, most people are born followers, or they simply misunderstand what it takes to truly motivate and inspire others to positive action. Many believe that bravado and aggression will frighten their subordinates into line; but, in fact, the opposite is true—and taking this approach comes with disastrous consequences. Now, more than in perhaps any other time in history, the world is in desperate need of all kinds of great leaders: politicians, teachers, spiritual leaders, heads of state, community and grassroots organizers, and even (maybe especially) parents.
Here are 10 important things that all leaders must understand:
1. To lead is to serve. If a leader, at any level—from the night manager of the drive-thru of the greasiest fast food restaurant in town to the Pope—gets this one concept alone, and truly takes it to heart, everything else will most likely fall into place. Leaders dedicate their lives, at great personal cost, to the good of others. Anyone who leads in order to be served is doomed to certain failure, and rightfully so!
2. Decisions must be made in a calm, objective state of mind. Thoughtful deliberation, quiet assertiveness, the self-discipline to take time to see a situation from all angles—that’s what we need in a leader. Consider this on a small scale: think of how abusive it is to discipline a child in the heat of anger and frustration, rather than to seek understanding and connection with the child instead.
3. Loyalty is not a virtue. In fact, it’s dangerous. One’s loyalty should never lie with a person, a family, a belief, a president, an ideology, a political party, a religion, or even a country. Our loyalties should only ever be to what is good and right and true above all else, no matter what. Period.
4. Humility trumps ego. We need leaders with self-awareness, who can admit their flaws and mistakes, who can apologize, and who are willing to openly change their minds when they are wrong. A man who lives at the mercy of his own fragile ego and its whims is weak and pathetic.
5. Criticism is good. It helps us know when to revise. How can we respect someone who can’t take criticism? Leaders need our criticism and cannot punish their employees, subjects, citizens, or families because of it. Leaders listen.
6. Transparency is key. In order to gain trust and respect, a leader must communicate openly, generously, and with clarity. Leaders tell the truth, even when it makes them look bad.
7. Great personal sacrifice is a necessity. All positions of power come with an unwritten contract. If one chooses to accept their position, regardless of what it is, they must protect every single person beneath them in the power structure. That means when times are tough and resources are lean, the leader is the one who must be the first to give up the most (and not just for show), so that those at the bottom suffer the least. When this doesn’t happen, it doesn’t end well. The French Revolution is a prime example.
8. Look within when the group’s morale is low or performance is down. It has nothing to do with lazy employees, immigrants, welfare queens, or any particular religious group. It’s not because your workers got too much free stuff so now they’re lazy and disrespectful. It’s not because of “kids these days.” Nope. This is about the people in charge—the culture and structures they’ve created and sustained—and they have to take full responsibility when things go wrong, even if it’s hard. It’s on you, so stop blaming everyone else and deal with it in a dignified manner.
9. Changes have to come from the top down, not the bottom up. Leaders set an example for the groups they serve. Say, hypothetically, a company was suffering financially. Removing benefits and docking the salaries of lower tier employees while the executives fly around in million dollar private jets and receive six-figure bonuses is just plain disgusting.
10. Never take away perks, privileges, money, or freebies that people are accustomed to. People will despise you. It will be mutiny. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Running anything, from a group of volunteers at a preschool to an entire country, is challenging—and it should be. The world needs role models. We need more great leaders, so it’s essential that we try to cultivate these 10 qualities in ourselves and those around us. More importantly, we need to recognize them in our politicians. If our mayors, representatives, senators, congressmen, and yes, our president, do not possess all of these traits we need to let them know loudly, firmly, assertively, and peacefully with phone calls, demonstrations, and protests.
When they don’t measure up they must be voted out or replaced as quickly as possible.
Author: Victoria Fedden
Editor: Leah Sugerman