I was thinking about leadership today and how it is often misunderstood. Now without a doubt, we know we need people who will step into and accept the reins of leadership when no one is available. We know we need people who are good at organizing and who call us to a higher level of commitment in our communities.
What we don’t need is someone who assumes the mantle of leadership only to fulfill some inner need to be the one in charge. In my life, when I have had to take on leadership roles, the first thing I have discovered is there are many people who are much better qualified than I to handle the situation. These may be folks with greater life experiences; those who prefer to remain in the background, but have a wide-ranging knowledge of the situation in which we find ourselves. Good leaders know:
A true leader is one who listens to those he or she is called to lead.
A true leader is a servant of the people.
true leadership is to know that you don’t know.
If you are always talking and letting people know what you know you won’t learn anything. Will Rogers, the cowboy humorist, said, “If you’re talkin’ you ain’t listenin’.” Later to your great embarrassment, you may discover there were folks around you much more versed in what is going on than you ever were. Many people will just sit quietly by and very soon you, who knows all there is, is sitting all alone with the responsibilities and problems squarely in your lap.
A mentor and friend once advised me that if you are leading the charge, be sure the people are following you, otherwise you may find yourself ahead of the pack and cut off from any assistance.
At the national level these days I think most of us are assuming a wait and see attitude about what is going to happen. Our current leaders are billionaires who have never wandered far from Wall Street and what they don’t know about us plain people, especially us prairie-dwellers, would fill volumes on their book shelves. They want to tell us what is best for us and how it should be handled, because, “they” know. Who better than a kindergarten teacher knows how to teach a child to read? A doctor in rural or inner-city America knows best the health care needs of the people he or she serves. A banker in a struggling community knows best how to meet the needs of people who are in economic trouble. No one wants to take the time to listen to the many voices being raised in our country because these ‘so-called’ leaders have all the answers.
State and local levels of government as well as other institutions in our communities need leaders who are compassionate listeners. Who know they don’t know, but are willing to learn. If you are called to serve, it is important to ask for opinions, to seek out those who know the people. Leadership calls us to come together, share what we know, and make good things happen.