On Leadership and Loyalty
What personal quality inspires loyalty, even when the leadership sometimes gets it wrong? Good leaders don’t aim for us to see how powerful they are, but to see our own potential.
This morning, I asked my teenage son to think on this, “What do you feel is the most important quality of a leader?” He’s very active in a number of team sports and deals with a fair few coaches with different leadership styles.
Later in the day, he gave me, “They can accept when they don’t know stuff.” I have to admit that I felt a tinge of pride that one of my oft-cited mantras rang true from his own perspective, “Pretence gets us nowhere.”
There is a certain type of anxiety that persistently rears its ugly head when we’re in a leadership role. It’s the feeling that if we make an error in judgement, we’ll look weak and unqualified. I’ve observed different ways in which this insecurity is managed. As a father and a former school teacher of often gifted children, I’ve felt this anxiety creep up many times. I feel that at this stage of my life, by the grace of good association, I’ve made progress in this department and that my thoughts on the topic might be worth sharing; even if it just confirms the common sense you probably already have.
Some in a leadership role just outright deny that any lapse in judgement ever took place. If someone surrounds themselves with enough sycophants, they might be able to pull this off … for a while. If people have invested their own sense of identity into their scene, they risk a lot by standing opposed – even when the issues are glaringly obvious to anyone with an uncompromised perspective.
Some try to deflect the cause of their lapse of reason to circumstance, eg. “It’s not my fault. I would never have made this decision if that wasn’t happening.” This is called “deficit thinking” and is the opposite of leadership in any true sense. Leadership loses its definition if it does not imply a sense of responsibility towards finding a way forward when the chips are down or, in this sense, when the mistakes have cost everyone.
Most insidiously, some deceitfully try to pin the blame for their mistakes on others. This is atrocious and creates a culture of envy and malice. It’s hard for anything to grow in such an environment, besides dark things in the heart. You can decorate this with a veneer of religiosity, pomp and regalia, but the truth will not budge. We can judge such trees by the fruit that they bear if we have the courage to unshackle our minds from this type of association or, even better, keep a well-reasoned distance in the first place.
Given that making the occasional error of judgement is part of the human condition, trying to sell a different reality is problematic from the start. Acknowledging our inherent tendency to sometimes get it wrong is not an admirable trait, it’s just basic sanity. Without this dynamic, we’re dysfunctional. If we study the battle decisions of any successful commander, we’ll clearly see the ability to pivot and react to new circumstance and information. Such agility relies upon the delegation of some decision-making and the fostering of a high-trust camaraderie. Teamwork makes the “dream” work.
For most of us, however, this wisdom is better applied in the context of friends and family. By admitting a mistake or failure, we do a number of things:
We model some vulnerability which makes it possible for others to empathise with us, “They make mistakes sometimes just like us.” That’s easy to relate to.
By modelling vulnerability, we send a message that it is perfectly ok to own your mistakes and grow from them. This, in effect, gives permission for those in our care to acknowledge their own need for growth. It becomes ok to be a “work in progress”.
Acknowledging “I made a mistake here” gives an opportunity for us to then draw upon the ability of others in our circle and enrich their leadership potential. This is essential for any long-term sustainability.
This type of analysis may beg the question, “What about loyalty?” Loyalty should be earned in proportion to someone’s accountability and sincerity of purpose. Those that lead for the right reasons don’t aim for us to see how powerful they are, but for us to see how powerful we are. How does anyone benefit internally from being surrounded by a mindless cabal of hunched over Quasimodos at their beck and call? Sure, things might get done in the short term, but at what cost? I’ve heard it said, “Be wary of those who’ll sacrifice anything for a cause. The first thing they’ll probably sacrifice is you.”
Unquestioning loyalty is not a good quality unless the person to whom we’re loyal is completely beyond defect. In a more realistic sense, loyalty should be reserved for those that can openly acknowledge the descending grace by which they surpass their own shortcomings and wilfully wish the same grace upon others in their care. If we’re fortunate to keep company with such thoroughly honest people of good character, it is wise to have confidence in this “perfectly imperfect” humility. Loyalty is born in the heart from gratitude and is not something we should force ourselves to fake because it’s the “right thing to do”. Those that have the most affection for others can be identified by their decisions and actions over a period of time. Pretty much everyone can posture and speak as if they’re properly motivated. We must be patient, wise and let Krishna as time do His work. If someone has benefited us, and we are grateful, an abiding feeling of loyalty will naturally follow. If that benefit is not tangible to us, then no amount of forced commitment will make it so.
Love is just another word until someone comes into our life and gives it meaning.
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These words were not generated with or augmented by artificial intelligence; just “flawsome” human thoughts here … with, of course, due homage to The Algorithm that abides over us all.
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