So much is said about great leaders. They command respect. They make the wise, grand decisions. They proceed boldly without fear. These traits may be true, but they do not unto themselves define great leadership. I find the best leaders to be galvanized by a cause that is larger than the individual. The cause ignites a motivation and a purpose to see an ideal future state, lasso it, and pull oneself toward that ideal future state with specific unwavering actions that will soon enable arrival at that future state. A leader has vision about an ideal state and is able to recognize the good that state will provide for humankind. She taps into infinite wisdom to know that her purpose is to be a vessel and a charge for the energy leading towards that future state. And she attracts others to the cause. Notwithstanding, she is a steward to those who sign on to the hero’s journey, to the quest that the collective is taking.
How then, is it that leadership fails? There are several pitfalls that leaders face. They may first have a goal that is only self-serving, unable to garner strong followers engaged in a collective beneficial cause, rather, sycophants that are merely star-stricken by the veneer of success and latched dregs as a form of self identification. They may be at one point dedicated to a proper cause, but lose their way due to hubris, the Icarus effect of flying too close to the sun. They may easily become distracted away from their vision, clouded judgement, thrown off guard, losing sight of a moral compass to make good and just decisions along the way to the cause. Machiavellian methods of shortcutting or hacking ahead that may prevent important growth work to be done. Self aggrandizing, self importance, self puffery can cause a leader to place ego and arrogance ahead of others’ needs.
Lo, the best way to be a leader, is always to be a servant. Be a servant to the cause. Be a servant to those serving along with you toward the common cause. Get on your knees and don’t be too far above the smallest task or responsibility needed to keep moving forward.
Who in history exemplify such leaders? I can think of a few. Jesus Christ comes to mind first. He who tarried with thieves and prostitutes, who stood up for the meek and the blind. Mahatma Gandhi also deserves laud. That peaceful protestor who honored nonviolence to campaign for India’s independence from British rule. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. cannot be spoken of highly enough. The man who used the power of words and grace to galvanize others to march on tirelessly in the name of civil rights equality for African Americans. And today? Who represents our servant leaders of today? Names are much harder to grasp, but perhaps because they are abundant at a myriad of levels. They are our essential workers, our every men and every women that do good despite the bad they face. Yes, I believe there are bright, shining, honorable leaders all around us. The democratizing of our world may make them less individually iconic, but they are memorable, nonetheless.