The True Price of Weak Leadership

Posted: August 21, 2012 in Deeper Things, Paths To Conquer
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There are many ways I could structure this post. I could opt for an analytical approach, or a rant, or a commentary. Or I could just write. So I choose to write, about not only what weak leadership looks like, but also its impact on those who are submitted (“subjected” sounds better in this case) to it. In many ways I’ve witnessed some of this first-hand – dare I say in my own leadership ability – and it is shocking to see what it produces. I warn you, this post is dense.

I’m a firm believer that the value of leadership is not seen purely by judging the leader’s character, but more in the impact the leader has had on their followers. I love the ‘character’ game more than anyone. “It’s all about character” we say. “Look at a person’s character” we shout. However there’s a little phrase I’ve read and heard many times that seems to be forgotten in all this talk: “You shall know them by their fruit”!

It is from this perspective that I want to tackle this, because I’ve met and seen incredible people who could blow you away by their words and wisdom and whatever else starts with ‘w’, yet many, and I really mean many fail to make that count beyond themselves. It’s almost as if they’re nice to listen to but terrible to live with. Now, that may be harsh, but for the most part you won’t have to live with your leaders . . . or do you?

I remember in my varsity years (that totally sounded like an old person speaking!) how there were various groups and societies on the campus that were doing great things. I distinctly remember a particular group that had these amazing values and a long history of success throughout the country. This basically meant that people joined it without much thought. It just attracted people from all over the campus. I knew the man running it, and we became good friends. He had an incredible mind, I was inspired to be like him…until I met his team, and saw what was truly happening in the group, and watched it literally disappear from the campus in just two years.

What was the problem? The guy was an incredible Strategist!

Huh? Yes! That was the problem! The position he held wasn’t so much an issue as the way he handled it. I’ve noticed as a leader, especially when you have a position or title, you have a lot more options than you might be aware of, and a weak leader misses those opportunities to maximise on their position. This man had ridiculous amounts of brains, and could piece together ideas from thin air, but for all that, he couldn’t motivate a single soul!

Think about this: He could grab your attention with his intelligence, but that’s all he had. After a while you realised he had no other tricks, and you got bored with the intellect. What made him weak was that he forgot as a leader that he had access to all these students who were full of potential and energy, and let them languish under his amazing strategic gift. Why is that bad that he was just a Strategist? Because Strategists know what to do, but are terrible at know how to make people do it. Charisma was nil, but worse than that, even as a Strategist, he missed the most important part of strategy, investing in the next line of leaders.

Now, as much as he forgot them, it’s not as though they were hidden in some cave unaffected. They were right there under his leadership, believing they all had to be like him, so they all started sounding like him, acting like him, and eventually, like I said earlier, they got bored, tired, despondent, and that is how the group – even with its great heritage – slowly died on campus in my time there.

I use this example partly to point out that you should put your Strategists in a room with a team, and only unleash them on everybody when they need to explain a direction, but give Motivators more room to keep people’s energy and morale high. Even CEO’s aren’t seen everyday. Think about that. And it’s probably for the better. BUT the real loss is what happened to those that were following him. Think of all that lost opportunity, and even that lost talent. How many would’ve been able to try something unique and maybe gain ground in uncharted territories? How many could probably take his message and packaged it in a way that was more palatable? Moreover, how many could have become future leaders? 

The minute the group declined, future leadership was terminated before it was even born. A kind of “leadership abortion” if you will. When the atmosphere became about his  method of expression, other forms were chopped down in everybody’s minds, some even believing that something different was wrong. What if you were the “different” person, slowly losing your uniqueness to become something you’re not… You wouldn’t even be aware of it, but if you were watching yourself, you’d probably be disgusted.

Great leaders know how to be themselves, yet still encourage their followers to be THEMSELVES. Great leaders don’t just know their strengths, they can spot others’ strengths as well…then draw them out! Great leaders know there’s a thin line between being an “example” and being an “idol”. Examples teach you principles that you can assimilate how you please, but an Idol says “it’s my way or the highway”.

This is where my friend failed, he believed so much in himself, that he forgot to believe in others… And I don’t care how you feel, that’s WEAK! Failing to remember the importance of those who follow you is WEAK. Failing to protect those  who follow you is WEAK. Covering up creativity to achieve conformity is WEAK! Because as a result of such leadership, the next generation fails to realise its own potential and purpose, and can never become what it was meant to. And that becomes your Fruit.

No matter how clever you are/were, the true power of your leadership will be seen in the quality of those you lead (while they are under your leadership, and afterwards too). What you have to offer is definitely important, but not at the cost of anyone coming after you.

Here in Africa, we’ve watched many Weak Leaders who have done great things, but hold on to their leadership at the expense of those who could have improved on the previous victories. What happens is that they breed an entire nation of “entitlement-thinking” people, because after enjoying the victories, you have to get the prize right? You shouldn’t have to work for it, you’ve already won right? What do you mean I need to follow the rules? My leader doesn’t! The law? That’s just a myth. We must fight our oppressors! So what if we already won the war, I’m sure we can fight each other now, because we need to keep fighting. Our leader is a fighter, so let’s fight. Even if it’s EACH OTHER! We must keep the fruit rolling!

Get me now? Of course there are some obvious references for those of you who are more politically inclined, but the main thing is we as leaders do a LOT more damage when we fall into such traps. You’re inspiring for a while, then you’re just oppressive. You get people thinking, but never get them to act. You show them something great, then make them into copycats. It’s terribly easy to fall into such a trap.

Do yourself a favour. Get over your past victories. Stop telling everyone how you fought for them. You’ll make people into fighters, when they need to be builders. The inability to see what you’re really doing to those you lead, is a fault all by itself. One with ridiculous levels of impact.

It’s a sad thing when a Movement turns into a Monument. Going from something active and dynamic, to something static and sterile.

Monuments are only good for taking pictures.
And pictures only remind us of the past.

Ok, so I think I ranted at the end there. Oh well.

Over.

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