LEADERS ARE KNOWN NOT BY THE MEDALS ON THEIR CHESTS BUT BY THE STARS ON THEIR BACKS
After observing how most powerful people often behave, I have come to a conclusion that they suffer from a delusion that power means something (it doesn’t). They also suffer from the misconception that titles make a great difference in their lives (they don’t). They are under the impression that earthly authority will make a heavenly difference (it won’t).
Can I prove my point? Let us take this quiz together.
- Name the ten wealthiest men in the world.
- Name the last ten winners of the Miss Kenya contest.
- Name eight people who have won the Nobel Peace Prize.
- How about the last ten Academy award winners?
How did you do on this quiz? I didn’t do well either. I realize that none of us remember the headlines of yesterday too well. Surprising how quickly we forget, isn’t it? And what I have mentioned above are no second rate achievements. These are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.
Here is another quiz, see how you do on this one.
- Think of three people you enjoy spending time with.
- Name ten people who have taught you something worthwhile.
- Name five friends who have helped you in difficult times.
- List a few teachers who have aided your journey through school.
- Name half dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you.
Easier? It was for me too.
I hope you had a chance to listen through the proceedings of the burial ceremonies of both Honorable John Michuki and Njenga Karume. Leader after leader eulogized the two by stating how loving and caring they were. I heard no one mention about their big titles or powers that they held as ministers
In other words people do not care about your title, about your education, about your wealth; they all care how much you care about them.
Through the messages of appreciation read out by close family members of the two leaders described how the death of their beloved ones provided the greatest moments of rare insight and great gestures of immeasurable grace that they ever hoped to experience. Utter emptiness and brokenness left them feeling awful but close and silent embraces from friends and phone calls of concern and empathy brought to their homes the much needed love. In other words the description by people’s messages of condolences on how caring, loving and helpful they were had shown them just how much their lives (Mr. Michuki and Mr. Karume) had been a witness to those around them. This teaches us that true leadership is not about title or position but service to change humanity.
What I am saying is that title and position means nothing. Let me deviate slightly and refocus on one greatest leader I know, Jesus Christ. We know that this leader (Son of Man) did not come to be served. He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people. Consider all the titles Jesus could have used to define himself on earth. King of Kings, the great I AM, the Beginning and the End, the lord of All, Jehovah, the great Healer, Might and Holy. All of these and a dozen others would have been appropriate.
But Jesus didn’t use them. Instead, he called himself the son of man. This title appears eighty-two times in the New Testament, eighty-one of which are in the Gospels and eighty of which are directly from the lips of Jesus. He exhibited great humility, care and love
Let me also expand the scope of care and being sensitive to people by quoting and learning from one of the extracts of Abraham Lincoln draft speeches;
“….in your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen and not in mine, is the momentous issue of the civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government, while I have a most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it. You can for bear assault upon it. I cannot shrink from the defense of it. With you and not with me is the solemn question of, “shall it be peace or a sword…?
He submitted his draft speech to Secretary Seward. Seward quite appropriately pointed out that some part of the speech was too blunt and provocative. So Seward moderated it and the speech now lost its provocative abruptness and rose to a climax of friendliness of sheer beauty and poetical eloquence. The revised draft version went as follows:
“…We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle field and patriot’s grave to every living heart- stone all over this broad land, will swell the chorus of the union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angle of our nature……..”
Even a blind man listening the amended version of Abraham Lincoln’s draft speech would feel that it was indeed a reconciliatory message. It is not left dangling in the air raising emotions. It is rounded off to moderation, it is indeed well put. This is one example of a great message of reconciliation encrypted with love and care. I hope Kenyan leaders are listening
Compare this speech with what the Late Malawian President Mutharika (God rest his soul in eternal peace) said on 21st July 2011(as quoted by the Daily Nation) when 18 people were killed during a riot. He issued a defiant message to the nation saying:
“… I would continue to govern the country. As mandated by the constitution, the authority to run government is in my hands and not any other person. Those protesting my leadership are being guided by the devil and the power of God will prevail over Malawi as Satan is a failure”. The fundamental difference between this statement and that of Abraham Lincoln was how it was put and ignored the feelings of the people. Do you as a leader or manager evaluate what you are about to say to citizens or employees before you say it?
From the foregoing, I am persuaded to state that leaders must empty their cups by constantly being sensitive, receptive to new ideas, suggestions and knowledge. They must always know that people do not care about their title, position or power. No matter how many initials and titles follow their names on their upscale business cards. It may make no difference unless they care about people. They must adopt what the people in the East refer to as the beginner’s mind, an essential attitude for every leader destines for success. They must grow humbler.
Leaders need to understand that when their people succeed, they succeed too. They need to understand exactly what Bernard Gimbel meant when he stated: Two things are bad for the heart, “running- uphill and running down – people.”
In dreams begin responsibilities proclaimed the poet Yeats. The visionary leader owes his people the responsibility of helping them to develop and flourish with love and care. He needs to understand that the greatest privilege of leadership is the chances to elevate lives. Tagore once said, “I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” While what you do daily as leaders is important, who you are helping or mentoring with care and love to become is the real song you came to sing.
Remember that small acts of kindness and love make a profound statement. Show your people that you are committed to them. Show them that you care. Give more of yourself to those you lead. Albert Einstein once said, “Many times I realize how much of my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow men and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”
Leaders are known not by the medals on their chests but by the stars on their backs!
Joseph is a member of ICPAK and Institute of Directors (Kenya) and a motivational public speaker on Transformational and Servant Leadership.