Hanging on to your leadership by a thread?

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A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him. Fail to honour people, they fail to honour you.
But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, “We did this ourselves.”

Lao Tzu

How long can David hold them off and cling on to power?

Recently, I watched the first episode of the BCC documentary The Dynasties, presented by Sir David Attenborough, titled David, The Ruler. I would recommend watching the episode on BBC iPlayer or online at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06r4m3d.

David is the ruler of his troop of Chimpanzees, but he is surrounded by rivals who want to take over. He has held on to his power for three years, which is an unusually long time in the chimp world. Male chimp power is all about being the alpha male, physically strong, dominating, having the precedence to mate with female chimps, to form political alliances, dominion over his territory and to extend his lineage. However, there are always chimps waiting in the wings to seize the moment to form a coup and topple him down.

One sentence from that episode stuck in my mind Is David hanging on to his leadership by a thread?
Over the last twenty years, I have worked under seven or more bosses each with different leadership roles.

They were all nice people if you met them outside of work. However, at work, under their leadership title, things were very different.

The best leaders empower not overpower

’After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.’

Nelson Mandela

Leadership is a complex topic. Countless articles have been written on what makes a great leader. To be recognised as a great leader requires a tremendous amount of experience, ploughing through challenges, being resilient and overcoming them against the odds.
The late President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela comes straight to my mind.

Personally, I did not hold an official leadership position in my working career but I did experience the effects of working under several managers. At my workplaces, CEO, Managing & Deputy Director, Head of Business, Manager and Supervisor were all leadership positions. As an employee working for them, I did not necessarily recognise their leadership as particularly inspiring or motivating.

The irony is that as employees we have come to accept titles and positions held in the hierarchical structure of businesses and give them due respect regardless of their abilities to lead.

The old cliché that leaders lead by example is true, and that is how it should be. A parent leads their child by practising what they teach. The best leaders empower others, rather than overpower and take any credit for themselves.

The problem I see is that many people think they are leaders, as soon as they are given a title such as boss, supervisor or manager.

Leaders are not nominated, they are first recognised by others on their ability to serve others in humility. They then rise to the surface in service to others when they are nominated and identified with the title of a leader. They are leaders because of how they conduct themselves, and their ability to inspire people to do things together. These types of leaders never claim to think they know it all.


‘Whatever you do for others, do it with a heart of serving and not for self-glorification.’
James Andrew

I am reminded of my late dad James Andrew who never called himself a leader but others recognised him as a leader. He never gave much thought about the title. His focus was on fulfilling his purpose in life, by inspiring others to share in his vision and journey along with him, towards the greater good.

5 indicators that your leadership is poor

1. Using your title as leverage

Here are some actual words from supervisors and managers that I have worked for.
‘When I say come, you come!’
‘Do as I say not what I do.’
‘I am grade seven, so you do what I tell you.’

On reflection, such words are a discouragement to anyone, especially when you feel like an underachiever.

The moment you say such words, you may feel you have won the battle, but, you have lost the war.

You are no longer leading by example, you are just enforcing hierarchy. That may initiate action at that moment, but it will cause resentment down the road. Just because you are in a position commonly associated with being a leader does not automatically result in leadership.

2. Pointing the finger instead of raising the thumb

A great leader knows that, at the end of the day, everything that happens under their leadership reflects on them. If your employee or your business partner makes a mistake, yes, on some level they are accountable, but on another level, their mistake could have been the result of the way you set out the process in the first place.

As they say, life happens and sometimes things go wrong, regardless of how well they have been planned. The truth is, it really does not matter how or why something goes wrong, what matters is how you, as a leader, react and move forward. If you point out everyone else’s mistakes without ever acknowledging your own role in the equation, the people around you will feel alienated.

3. Being emotionally inconsistent

As an employee, there is nothing worse than not knowing whether today is a good day or a bad day.

I worked with a supervisor who I believe was precisely that, not just towards me but to everyone else too. One day she would say alright darling? The next day, the word darling would disappear.

What hinders growth, development and productivity in a person, is having to worry or wonder what sort of emotional reaction you are going to get from your boss.

It may be that on some days, you handle complicated things with ease, yet, on other days, a simple question such as can I book my leave today? can throw you into a fit of rage. I have seen this happen to some of my colleagues. These emotional inconsistencies are what create chaos in an office or work setting because nobody knows what to expect.

As a leader, you are the rock, the foundation upon which it all co-exists and operates. It is a lot to carry, but that is why you are the leader. You must learn how to recognize your emotions and deal with them without affecting those you are entrusted to manage.

4. Not keeping your word

Nothing destroys trust and reliability more than when a leader promises but does not deliver.

Have you heard words such as I am really busy and I have no time to deal with this now? Your employees and associates will begin to question your ability to carry your own weight, no matter how much else you have on your plate.

What you should do instead is be honest and admit, even as the leader of an organisation or a small team, when you need help. There is no dignity in taking on responsibilities you ultimately cannot fulfil.

5. Focusing on the bad and not highlighting the good

There is a fine line between inspiring greatness and tearing down motivation.

If you focus only on the mistakes of the people around you, they will begin to feel as though everything they do is wrong. This is a recipe for disaster, both intrinsically and extrinsically. Yes, point out the mistakes and address them as needed. But do not overlook or devalue what they bring to the table the rest of the time.

Hearing what you do well is just as important as hearing what you do poorly. Otherwise, your employees or associates will feel lost in the dark, not sure of how to best navigate themselves within your expectations.

Being a leader is tough. Yet if served with the right attitude it can be very rewarding.


‘Leadership is taking wise decisions and not the easy route.’
Prime Minister Theresa May on Brexit, November 15, 2018

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