Although a leader might appear like he always has it together and needs nothing, every leader goes through seasons of lack. Nobody in life has everything that he needs. The richest man in the world has areas of need and things that he lacks. On several occasions, I have heard people express the sentiment that you should never need to give anything to someone who dons the toga of success. Someone once told me why she does not give me anything. She asked, “Why should anyone pour water into the ocean?” Sounds an absurd thing to do, right? I laughed out loud as I took time to school her on the fact that the ocean is what it is because every river eventually finds its way into it. Many leaders are distressed and need words of encouragement. Many have a spiritual void yearning to be filled. For others, it may be a health challenge. Every individual at some point, has something that buffets him and requires a remedy that any of the people around him can provide. Sometimes, something as ‘insignificant’ as a basket of fruits can make a significant difference in a leader’s day! The Bible tells the story of a General who was the commander of the national army of Syria. Rich, highly influential and a very powerful man in the kingdom. But few people knew that he was a leper. And if they did, nobody felt that he was in a position to do anything about it until an Israeli slave-girl provided information that led General Naaman to a cure. When you see that a leader has favourites among his followers, don’t judge him. They are likely to be the people who constantly and consistently get his back, helping him fill certain critical gaps at certain points in his life, thus enhancing his effectiveness.
I have never met a leader who did not have feeling of being innately insufficient from time to time. While many people expect him to always know how and when to dot the ‘I’s and cross the ‘t’s, a leader doesn’t always have it together or know it all. From time to time, every leader questions his own capacity for playing his role well. This is what drives great leaders to rabid learning. Their sense of insufficiency produces a void that can be turned to advantage by seeking knowledge in the areas of perceived gaps. When not properly handled, the downside of this sense of insufficiency is that in some leaders, it produces a bad self-esteem that he uses compulsive function and performance overdrive to compensate for or hide. For some, the void is spiritual, a deep-seated sense of emptiness that makes performance and a good appearance only a decoy for the depression and tearing apart within.
When a leader over-compensates for his shortcomings with rabid performance, his body eventually sends him a signal that a continuous grind is an invitation to disaster. Many end up with a burnout. There are leaders for whom the word ‘rest’ is anathema. They believe that taking a break from time to time is actually a revised version of idleness. For them, it is work till you drop! And drop indeed some do. Burnout is not a very palatable experience on the mind and the body. An individual needs an average of six to eight hours of sleep daily. Some leaders hardly get four! I plead guilty here. There was a time in my life when I felt that only lazy drones slept for more than four hours in a day! I paid a heavy price in my health and it was only the grace of God that spared my life. Even till now, I still find it difficult to sleep long hours at a stretch. I got up to write this after less than four hours of sleep! I found a healthy way out however through poly-phasic sleeping where I get to take a nap or two in the course of the day when my body feels tired. Even if only for ten minutes at a time, such moments of rest can actually be very invigorating and restorative.
Because they don’t always know what to do in every situation, leaders sometimes linger on matters where they are expected to be prompt and decisive. Very often, a leader finds himself between what appears to be the devil and the deep blue sea; tails you lose and heads you lose. In such situations, the leader is caught in a situation where he is confused and has to weigh his options well before taking a decision. Even when he seeks the input or counsel of some of his trusted followers, they sometimes think that he is pulling their legs or leading them on.
Every leader has found himself at a crossroads at various points of his life and function. John is pastor of a thriving church. Every time he steps out with his wife, he cuts the picture of a quintessential husband whose family is the poster face of an ideal home. What no one knows is that their ‘ideal’ marriage is falling apart, marred by several intrigues that appear to be beyond the capacity of both parties to handle. John is married to a woman who hardly believes in his calling and who makes his life consistently unbearable through nagging and interminable demands that put a strain on the family finances. If his marriage eventually hits the rocks, how many of his congregants will be forgiving enough to stand with him?
Leaders do get exasperated. This happens when challenges on the job become overwhelming. Quite often, a leader finds himself saddled with a myriad of problems that threaten corporate outcomes and are capable of derailing the vision. Such could be in the areas of uncooperative or disloyal manpower, insufficiency of resources or unfavourable government policies that negatively affect corporate direction. At such times, the leader, overcome by the frustration of the challenges, is on edge and may fly off the handle very easily.
Truth be told, these and many other things in the life of a leader simply show that he is human, contrary to what many of his followers are wont to believe. He is only able to lead because he has learnt not to be overcome by these weaknesses in a way that they derail his vision or the corporate outcome. Winston Churchill was said to be a chain smoker and indulged in binge drinking. Yet he proved to be one of the greatest leaders to have come out of Great Britain. Leaders lead because of their strengths and because they are the ones who took up the gauntlet to lead a group of people through defined collective dilemmas or towards the attainment of a vision, not because they are infallible. Leaders themselves must therefore be comfortable with this fact. When a leader embraces this reality, he can afford to be transparent, vulnerable if need be, and his level of credibility rises in the eyes of his followers. More importantly, it helps people around him understand him better and gives him room to be himself while constantly holding himself to higher standards.
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!