Rest Stop (Thursday) … any leaders in the house?

As a young child I can recall looking up to adults as leaders.  As a child I looked to people in uniform such police officers, firefighters, astronauts and even people in business attire as leaders.  But for me as a kid, a leader was simply a person who was older than me who could tell me to do something and I had to do it.  These were the people, in my perspective, who ruled the world.  As I grew up and matured, I began to realize that my view of what a leader was began to change, and widen in scope.

I am reflecting on this now since this past Monday, in the United States, we as a nation celebrated “President’s Day“, a day for us to reflect upon our past leaders; their accomplishments and struggles.

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Seal of the President of the United States

A day to recognize the sacrifices made by the people  and their families, to lead our nation into the future.  Of course not all the presidents were successful, nor even liked, but all of them were our leaders at a time in our history.

A couple of weeks ago many people around the world were shocked to hear the news that the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, announced his resignation.  A pope, elected for life, has not resigned in the over 600 years!  News of the resignation was not only a shock, but a historical moment.  As a life-long Catholic never had it ever entered my consciousness that a pope would resign, let alone during my lifetime.

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Pope Benedict XVI

It was these two events which got me thinking about leadership.  Whom do we look toward as a leader and why?  What are the characteristics and qualities we seek in and from a leader?  Does the image of a leader change when I become a leader?

I believe that most of us expect certain qualities from our leaders.  We would like them to be knowledgeable in the field in which they are leaders, confident, fair, wise, caring, compassionate, strong.  A charismatic person we would be wiling to follow.  Think to yourself “who would I follow and why?”

In her book “Words Made Flesh: Scripture, Psychology and Human Communication“, Sr. Fran Ferder describes a leader in this way: “… to enable them {the people} to stand upright. It is to take away the obstacles that weigh them down and keep them helpless. It is to relate to them face to face, eye to eye. To talk with them as equals. It is to stand aside and let them have their glory.”  In Sr. Ferder’s perception, a leader is one who is compassionate and caring, willing to set in motion plans for which they will later allow others to take the credit.  Does this sound like our current leaders?

One of the reasons that the resignation of the Pope led me to this reflection is the message and image of “leadership” that he demonstrated in his resignation.  When we think of many of our current leaders, or even society in general; how many people are willing to freely give up fame, power and prestige for the greater good?  Pope Benedict, thinking of the future of the Church, gives up all.  What a powerful lesson for us to reflect on.

In my university class, one of our topics of discussion is the role of leadership qualities within the helping relationship.  I show the class this video entitled “First Follower: Leadership lessons from dancing guy” as a demonstration of changing one’s perspective on leadership and on being a leader.  I hope you view the short video, for its premise is that the leader is not as important as is the first follower.  Without that first follower, the leader stands alone.  Therefore, one of the main roles of a leader is to attract and keep the first follower.  But that also means that the focus and attention shifts away from the leader.  The leader needs to be strong enough to allow themselves to step back and allow the process to proceed.

Along our life’s journey, how have we viewed leaders?  What kind of leader have you been when given the opportunity?

I challenge each of us to spend a moment to reflect upon the qualities of a leader that are important to us, and then self-reflect on how well, or not so well, I embody those qualities.  In what areas of my life do I need to be a more successful leader?

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5 thoughts on “Rest Stop (Thursday) … any leaders in the house?

  1. Leadership was a topic we had to give a lot of thought to when I was in the army… to me being a leader means inspiring and encouraging the whole team to work together in harmony, and giving room for everyone to use their talents in the best way for them and the group. It meant putting the welfare of your team before your own, and never asking them to do something you weren’t prepared to do yourself. It also meant trying to ensure their well being, physical and emotional… if there was a big sick parade, we felt we had failed as leaders, as we interpreted that as low morale…Consideration and courtesy seemed important too…
    I love to read about Ernest Shackleton who put these principles into practise and never lost a man on his expeditions. Captain Cook was another inspiring leader…

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  2. Thank you for an interesting reflection, as a ladies group leader I think I always feel that I have given a good lead, when various ones ditch their shyness, take up the challenge and begin speaking or doing things for themselves. John the Baptist surely is the best kind of example when he acknowledges that he must grow less and Jesus grow more; it is lovely to watch others flourishing, blessings,

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