The starfish is a sea creature in the large family referred to as echinoderms (the Latin word means “spiny skinned”). It belongs to the class of echinoderms known as asteroidean, a group comprising different species of starfish, usually characterized by a pentagonal, star-shaped body.
Starfish are characterized by certain things that I believe any leader who desires to be effective can learn from. The first characteristic of starfish is its ability to regenerate itself. When a part of the organism has been lost, the starfish simply goes ahead to grow a replacement. Too many people fall apart when they experience losses. Effective leaders are not inspired by what they lost but by what they have left. No matter how good you are as a leader, you will get to that grind where people leave you or you lose resources. Placing undue emphasis on what you lost is a sure way to self-sabotage. Your future is never in what you lost. It’s in what is left. When anyone or some people leave, don’t let that faze you, no matter how upsetting it is to the system. Simply build new steam from the willingness of those who remain.
From a small fragment of its body, a starfish can grow a completely new animal! In a particular specie, one of the arms could simply pull away and form another animal entirely. Two issues become pertinent here. Resourcefulness is a strength of great leaders. This is the ability to use little to achieve much. Quite often, all that a leader has is an idea. And that becomes the seed for the realization of a great vision. Give a true leader an idea, he grows that fragment into a fully realized vision. The other dimension is the capacity of a leader for personal reinventing. Continuous learning is the only guarantee that the leader has for continued relevance. When leaders commit to a learning process, they not only enhance their effectiveness, they are also able to reproduce themselves in others faster.
In an asexual reproduction system known as budding, an outgrowth can break away from the parent organism and begin a new life as a new individual. The originating organism simply grows that part back in what appears a seamless process. A true leader is comfortable with a follower leaving to reproduce a process. This is really what true discipleship is. As Jesus had cause to put it, even though a servant isn’t greater than his master, the goal of a servant is to become like his master. A leader who cannot be comfortable with people who leave him doing what he is doing hardly qualifies to be called a leader. True leadership is never about competition but about distinction.
In another reproduction process known as fission, the organism actually deliberately breaks into two and each part becomes an autonomous entity. The legacy of great leadership is the leader’s ability to reproduce himself in others. Great leaders lead to be duplicated, not needed. So they build platforms, not crutches!
Every leader goes through rough patches. Such experiences could come in the form of direct attacks from those who do not subscribe to the leader’s vision or who feel threatened by it. Such can come at him by way of predatory attacks on his vision or person. It can come in form of betrayal by trusted allies. These appear to be all too-familiar experiences in leadership. When under attack or injured in any way, the starfish, as a protection and self-preservation strategy, simply auto-amputates, preferring to lose a part than being entirely consumed by the predator. In time, it grows the part back! It is important to know that not every battle is worth fighting. Sometimes, a leader needs to simply walk away from some fights even if he loses face or resources. In life, we lose some, we win some. But time is the ultimate healer. It has an uncanny way of sealing all cracks.
The starfish does not have a regular, fully-developed mouth. When it needs to feed, it simply protrudes its stomach to cover the food and digest it. However, if by any chance the food proves to be poisonous or a threat in any way to its palate, the starfish simply detaches itself from the stomach and grows another one!
According to the Holy Bible, the ear must try words the same way the mouth tries food. What this means is that leaders must be very careful to be initially dispassionate about every information they receive either by way of study or through conversations they have with others before they actually begin to process and apply them. Not every information of touted knowledge out there is of significant value to the leader. Some may actually be toxic and proceed from questionable sources. Any leader who reads, internalizes and actually projects the principles espoused in Nicolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” or Robert Greene’s “The 48 Laws of Power” or “The Art of Seduction”, will come across as manipulative and a control freak who preys on other people’s feelings while teleguiding them to do his bidding just to advance his own selfish cause. Such a leader will use people to serve his vision instead of using his vision to serve people.
Sometimes, a leader’s mind and conduct are negatively impacted by gossip and backbiting from and about followers, usually originating from sycophants in the system whose only agenda is to seek relevance by demonizing others. A leader who delights in entertaining such actually undermines his leadership and makes it difficult to build bridges of trust among the team he leads. In time, he feels insecure because he can no longer trust anyone. In actual fact, he constantly feels that his position is under threat. The Holy Bible aptly states that when a leader is given to listening to tales, he ends up seeing all his followers as evil. The result is needless paranoia where the leader despises or sometimes actually fears those that he is supposed to lead and trust!
In the light of the above, leaders must learn to question every information they read or are fed with, analyze and critically evaluate them before internalizing (digesting) and using them. Things don’t always appear as they look or as they are reported. The greatest leader that ever lived, Jesus Christ, gives helpful counsel that should help every leader. This can be summarized in one simple sentence, “Be careful WHAT you hear and be careful HOW you hear”!
Simply put, as much as the leader should constantly stretch out his ‘stomach’ for information, he must be willing to detach himself from potentially injurious information especially when such points him to do a values somersault that makes him deny or work against his deepest, ingrained core values! True leadership is a disposition contingent on a process rather than appointment into a position. Great leaders develop and evolve not so much by what they achieve but by what they become in the process.
Don’t gorge on a toxic atmosphere. Learn from the starfish.
Grow another stomach!
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!