It all begins with self-leadership


A story was once told of a man who refused to give way for the King’s convoy to take its course. He was so insistent on having his right of way that the commotion caused by his defiance called the King’s attention. Desirous of meeting someone who had guts enough to oppose royalty, the King went out to meet him. “Who are you, man, that you dare defy the King?” asked the King. “I am also a king,” retorted the man. “Over what principality do you reign?” asked the King in response to his seemingly bogus claim, since his attiring didn’t reflect conventional royalty. “Over myself,” was the rather mischievous response that followed. He was king over himself indeed. Though obviously laughable, there is a peculiar take-home for everyone: We’re all kings, at least over ourselves.

It is a natural human tendency to want to lord it over others; to want to have others respect our opinions; to want to force others to comply with our will. At the same time, we develop whiskers of resistance towards others’ lordship; we insist that our own opinions be respected, even amidst more appropriate ones; we’re hell-bent on letting our wills reign supreme, especially when they clash with those of others. Perhaps this accounts for why human beings are termed to be naturally selfish.

The implication of this natural tendency towards selfishness for leadership is enormous. This is exactly because it directly contradicts what true leadership is really about: selflessness. The true leader must, as a matter of fact, be all out to serve – and not to be served. Also, the true leader must, when necessary, be willing to lay down his self-interest at the feet of the common good. However, these are hard choices to make. Choosing service over lordship and choosing selflessness over selfishness is not bread and butter. Yes, it all begins with the dealing with the self.

The following will prove to be of help in our bid to develop self-leadership. Already stated, the presence or absence of self-leadership has implications for leadership at large.

DISCIPLINE: Call it self-control or self-restraint, discipline ensures that we do what we’re supposed to do, whether we like it or not; whether we’re comfortable with it or not. For instance, if one’s rising time is 5am, discipline ensures that one gets out of bed at that time, irrespective of how much more one would have loved to tarry in bed. Truth be told, an undisciplined person necessarily makes a poor leader, since they come into the leadership enterprise with bad habits such as procrastination, negative compromises, laziness. Of course, they get to infect their followers with such habits. On the other hand, the disciplined individual makes a leader of uncommon breed; they don’t let things slip off their fingers, as they keep to their schedules and stick with their plans.

COURAGE: The emotion of fear has eaten really deep into many a person. The natural tendency in this regard is to immediately take to flight in the face of danger. There is no doubt that exposure to danger can be injurious, but fleeing from ‘every’ danger will make for an uneventful life. It is also important to know that the ‘fear-factor’ has a way of magnifying danger, such that most of the dangers people flee from are either trivial or even figments of their imagination. Therefore, courage is a very important virtue that is possessed by those who lead well. Mind you, courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is more about acting in spite of fear. Courage is more about braving the odds, taking risks, and looking forward to a positive outcome. In fact, without courage there is no leader in the first place, since the onus lies on the leader to chart the course of collective action in the waters of uncertainty.

DELAY GRATIFICATION: The average human being usually not only wants things but wants them ‘now.’ They go for it as soon as they feel the need for it. And this has set many people on the path of destruction, since having ‘now’ what should be had ‘later’ can be destructive. Teenage pregnancy, for instance, results from having sex now which should be had later – in marriage. A person who is poor in delaying gratification will definitely make a poor leader, since they will be impulsive in making decisions, hence dragging their followers into their mess.

OBEDIENCE: Obedience is simply submitting one’s will to the will of another. This can be a very difficult thing to do, that is, having another’s will reign supreme over ours. A disobedient person will make a poor leader, as there is always a higher authority to obey at every leadership level. The leader also has the followers to obey, what we’ve come to call the ‘will of the people.’ To make a fine leader, obedience at a personal level is super important.

HUMILITY: Without humility, service is impossible or merely lip-service. Humility, they say, is the queen of all virtues. Humility is not so much about having a low estimation of oneself, as it is about understanding that all human beings have equal dignity and worth, and as such be accorded respect. The proud person makes an arrogant leader, and pride is known to have always gone before a fall.

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