Leadership: Lessons I learnt along the way

My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation – James 3:1

A very dear friend who has followed my work for a while asked me recently at what point in my life I decided to focus on leadership development and practice. I found it a little difficult to answer at first because even though there were certain landmark experiences that reinforced and helped to properly crystallize what I had always known I wanted to do, I had never given a thought to the idea of a particular time in my life when I decided to PRACTICE leadership. Let me explain.

As far back as I can remember, I have always been in some sort of spotlight (for the wrong and the right reasons)! I have found myself being passionately loved and being passionately hated. From my growing years, I have found myself assuming one leadership role or another. Being anonymous in a group has never been my forte. Unless of course, there is no need for me to meet or a task to accomplish. Even when I tried to be faceless, my ‘anonymity’ drew attention to me.

I have always thrived on stepping up to the plate to fill whatever gaps I felt existed and which I could take responsibility for and fill in any collective that involved my person. The implication of this is that I have found myself taking up responsibilities or occupying one leadership position or the other from when I was very young. At that time, I didn’t understand what was called leadership. I just felt like solving problems wherever and whenever I could! Consequently, this trait has set me up both for fond admiration by those who appreciate the timely interventions and fierce opposition by those who saw no reason to alter the status quo. I have taken both in my strides.

In the last 30 years of my life, I have been privileged to interact with great leaders from several nations across five continents and also raise several leaders who are holding their own and raising other leaders in their spheres of influence. I can say with all sense of responsibility and gratitude to God that nobody who REALLY drank from the fountain of the grace of God on my life in that period has ended up a nonentity. I am thrilled to no end when I meet many of my past protégés and they tell me how the things I taught them several years ago helped them to lay a solid foundation for their lives. I got a message from someone recently who reminded me that I taught her even when she was still a young girl, the power of savings. Since then – she is all grown up now and runs her own business – she has learnt to save 20% of her income! I ran into one in the USA who made me understand that the things he learnt from me gave him hope and direction at a time in his life when he was almost giving up on himself in the university. Today, he has a thriving private business in Texas and is also a Pastor.

My experience over the years has taught me some lessons that have guided my conduct. Some of them are very hard truths that can hurt when you first learn them. But when you do and constantly keep them in mind in your daily function, your life becomes easier and free of men’s affirmation or disapproval. In this series, I plan to share some of those experiences with you.

Very often, I have people come to me to tell me about their problems. Some act like their world will collapse if you don’t do something for them. Before I learnt my lessons, I fell several times for the emotional blackmail that this entails. I always fell – and sometimes still do – for this and would practically break an arm and a leg to help such individuals, only to have things literally thrown back at my face! From repeated errors in this regard, I learnt that not everyone who comes to you for help or counsel actually NEEDS your help. Sometimes, people come to you because they need someone they respect to validate a position that they have taken on a matter. When they see that your counsel goes against their pre-conceived notions, they leave and never return. Some have no vision for their lives and they come to you for counsel or direction. I used to suggest possibilities to such people until I found out that if they tried any of the options you suggested and they have challenges in the pursuit, they turn round to blame you. These days, when people come to me for direction or mentorship, my first question is to ask them, “Where do you want to get to and how badly do you desire that destination?” I can only give directions to a destination that is pre-decided. It is not my job to manufacture a destination for anyone. Several people come to you for help who in actual fact, only want a crutch or someone to latch on to and scrounge on like a leech!

Driven by the strength of an overarching vision, leaders are constantly in search of people to commit to the process that delivers the vision. Experience has however taught me that involvement and commitment are not synonymous. Involvement may engage people but until people commit to the leader, they cannot help him to fulfil his vision. Very often, when people come to associate with what you are doing, I have learnt that most of them come primarily for themselves rather than for you. They come to you either because you invited them or they were initially attracted by what they heard or saw. They sound very enthusiastic and may even eulogize you to high heavens, telling everyone who cares to listen how indispensable you are to them. If you get carried away by such eulogies, you will be caught unawares when they show their true colours. When it is convenient for them and they think they no longer enjoy the benefits they came to enjoy, they will have no hesitation in throwing you under the bus! Self-interest still rules the world.

Involved people are many. Committed people are rare. Many years ago, there was someone in our church who was so close to me that he literally memorized my messages and could almost deliver them word for word! He was a foundation member of our church and I entrusted him with responsibilities. In conversations with people, he would eulogize me to high heavens and tell everyone who cared to listen that nothing would ever make him leave the church. As he said that while making announcements one day, I leaned over to my wife and whispered to her ears, “That guy will soon leave. Just give it a few months”. Less than six months later, a series of events happened. The guy was one of the ringleaders of the first move of rebellion we had in the church.

Of course he left!… continued.

Remember the sky is not your limit, God is!

 

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