We all admire leadership.
No matter which way we look, we see the glorification of leadership- in art, in politics, in religion, and in literature. And yet only rarely do we witness leadership in person. This is partially because the value of real leadership is recognized most easily in times of crisis. However, there is another problem, which is that people often fail to differentiate leadership from a related skill set- and that is management.
Leadership and management are two very different things. And we make a grave mistake if we use the two terms interchangeably. For when we lead, we go first, and must inspire others to follow; when we merely manage, that inspirational element is pressed into the background- if it continues to exist at all. Managers need not go first; they can safely direct their troops from behind- but that is not leadership; that is something else entirely.
The desire for leadership is deeply imbedded within us. It is a tribal pattern; it is grounded in our shared ancestral environment- one of risk, danger, and scarcity. Leadership was necessary because without it, the tribe would perish. No matter how democratic we become as a global society, those old patterns do not just vanish.
They persist; they drive our behavior still.
Those in positions of authority would do well to remember this because the degree to which they able to embody authentic leadership has a profound effect on hiring, retaining employees, and maximizing efficiency. Leadership affects morale; it affects group cohesion- what in French is referred to as l'esprit de corps. This in turn has an effect on success- both in terms of profit and in terms of production. So we would do well to remember that while managing sometimes feels dehumanizing to those being managed- who sometimes feel that they have been reduced to "a cog in a machine"-, leadership is quintessentially humanizing. Why? Because when we lead, we require others to follow us voluntarily.
The leader goes first; he goes whether he is followed or not- and others in turn must choose whether to follow him or not.
When we lead, we run the risk of going it alone- and the fact that leaders are willing to take that risk is precisely why we admire those willing to take it. And so the only difference between the loner and the leader is that others have chosen to follow the leader; in every other respect, they are nearly identical. But what inspires people to follow? What qualities define leadership, and inspire others to join the loner on his journey- and thus transform him from a loner into a leader?
There are many qualities that are common to leaders, but essentially there are three that are most critical:
We all have our place in the world; not everybody needs to be a leader. But if we choose to lead, we must possess at least the seeds of these elements, and perhaps even more importantly, we must be willing to continually cultivate these qualities within ourselves. Leaders hold themselves to a higher standards than they hold others to; this is what justifies following them in the first place: Not only do they talk the talk; they also walk the walk, and they walk it better than they expect others to walk it. This is inspirational: It inspires others not only to follow the leader, but even more importantly, it inspires others to become better than they are. And so the leader is, in some sense, a kind of image of a higher ideal, which inspires us to become something better.
Leadership is more than a privilege; it is also an enormous burden. Because when we take upon ourselves a position of authority, we take the wellbeing of others in our hands. This should not be taken lightly. Leadership is more than a privilege; it is also an incredible responsibility.
But the world needs leaders, and so it is necessary nonetheless. And in today's egalitarian society, it may be even more important- if only because it is more rare and thus more precious than it has ever been in the past.
~ Joshua van Asakinda
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Joshua van Asakinda is a master-level psychological consultant, and the creator of ZenTactics, Heroic Theory, & Zenshida'i Silat-Serak.