“With the greatest leader above them, people barely know one exists.
Next comes one whom the love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.
When a leader trusts no one, no one trusts him.
The great leader speaks little.
He never speaks carelessly
He works without self-interest and leaves no trace.
When all is finished, the people say, “We did it ourselves.”
As a “follower” I’ve always believed that my job was to make the person who put me in my position look like a genius for hiring or choosing me. And as a leader I’ve always tried (though not always successfully) to make myself invisible while elevating those around me. Both acts are difficult because we are humans…we are prideful…and the world tends to look for the leader and ignore those in the trenches or doing the foot work.
Over the past couple of years I’ve been dismayed by the type of leadership I’ve seen…and served…in the workplace, at church, in politics, etc. These are not the leaders that people “barely know exist” that Lao-tzu speaks of. Instead they are leaders who are so “BIG” in their presence that it steals the air from the room. These are leaders who pay no attention and then swoop in to “save the day” making things more frantic than when they were disengaged. These are leaders who don’t engender love or fear and who no one can despise. These are leaders that instead create indifference, ambivalence and frustration.
To be fair, for most of them this is what was modeled to them by their leaders past and present. These are not malicious and manipulative people in most cases. These are well intended men and women who are just sidetracked by their inability to lead while creating unity, consensus, and brilliance.
If you are a person (like me) who sometimes leads without trying, you must become more aware. Aware of how you treat those on the team. Aware of what you ask for from others AND from yourself. Aware of what you dare to hope can come from collaboration and unwilling to lower your standards to patriarchy, tyranny, or mediocrity. How will we begin to see beauty, truth, and produce needful things for the world until we step into leadership and ask those around us to step into it too.
There will always be enough people, projects, groups, governments, etc. to lead. Stop worrying about position and start worrying about output. Am I…is my team…producing something valuable, beneficial, and GOOD into the world? Can I lead others in such a way that when they get to the end, I’m no longer noticeable and instead they see their own talents or the grace of God over all things?
I have to ask myself…can I…will I…lead this way???