Leadership: How Hard is it Really? Why Lead at All?

Photo credit: WebAble Design Team

Leadership is knowledge that one can fail, yet put one’s loyalties - relationships, credibility, time and heart on the line; all because one believes in a cause or a vision. Leadership is not about authority. In fact, one does not require any authority to exercise leadership. I remember a colleague at WebAble saying “If you don’t exceed your formal authority, then you are not pushing the envelop.”

The purpose of leadership is ‘change’. The process of leadership mobilises people to move from point A to point B; and according to conventional wisdom, people resist change. However, if we look deeper, we will see people don’t really resist change, they resist the ‘loss’ that incurs from change.

A leader has a vision that spreads the hope of change through delivering bad news (to convince people about the problem associated with status quo) and raising difficult questions in a way people can absorb, rather than resist. As we raise difficult questions and ask people to sustain loss, they will naturally be defensive. These resistances can come in different faces –
Leaders risk becoming marginalised, diverted, emotionally attached or seduced by power.

The challenge of leadership is to work with differences, passions and conflicts in a way that diminishes peoples’ destructive potential and constructively harness their energy. Therefore, a leader must be strong, be able to maintain one’s poise so that one can plan their next best step.

The process of leadership is driven by passionate instincts. Leadership challenges people intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically. One has to balance their work-life priorities too. Leaders have to separate role from self. No two human beings are same; leaders must understand that people have different needs and agendas.

Thinking politically gives great leverage when exercising leadership. The nature of connections human beings have with each other often comes to great use personally and professionally. Some essential attributes of thinking politically are on-boarding followers, keeping the opposition close, accepting responsibility of your part of the problem, acknowledging others’ losses and modelling one’s behaviour to remain true to the cause. Leaders have to accept that everyone can’t change, so there will be casualties. Some have to be left behind, despite personal attachments, to keep moving towards the goal.

If leadership is so difficult, then ‘Why lead’ at all? I would say the only way one could answer this question is by discovering what gives meaning in our lives. For most people, survival is not enough, if it were the point, in the end, they would surely fail: PEOPLE DON’T LIVE FOREVER. Remember?

However, accepting this obvious truth is never easy. There are many things which give meaning to our lives. Of course it varies from person to person. But nobody wants to resent their life on their death-bed. Do they?

I think exercising leadership is a way of giving meaning to our lives by contributing to others’. At best, it is a product of love. Everyday, we have the opportunity to exercise leadership, but it takes a lot of heart to bear the perils of this process. One cannot possibly enjoy the rewards and joy of leadership without experiencing the pain it brings.

This post is dedicated to all my current and ex colleagues at WebAble and BYLC. They have taught me everything I know about leadership.