"Therefore, a skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and does not demand it of his subordinates." - Sun Tzu
One day a Dog, walking down the road with his Master, passed the entrance to a temple where two stone lions stood. Their threatening postures, with backs bent, paws outstretched, and mouths open showing wicked teeth, were meant to drive away evil spirits. The Dog, looking at them, realized that they were no bigger than himself. "Why, I myself am the same size as one of those lions! I could appear just as ferocious and terrifying as they!"
Later that night as the dog was roaming the woods near his home he came upon a pack of wolves. Recalling his experience earlier that day, the Dog mimicked the pose of the lions and began to growl and paw at them menacingly. However the wolves, none too impressed, formed a circle around the Dog and began to nip at him from every direction until howling, he ran back to his home.
Application: Mimicking the appearance another does not make one that other.
To be a leader is to be alone.
However, to be a leader is not to be isolated. The good leader is always around people, finding out what is going on, encouraging, gently correcting, laughing at jokes and getting a sense of how those they are leading feel. They are interacting with their peers and superiors as well, getting a sense of what the need is and how the leader can move towards filling those.
But even within these circumstances, the leader remains alone.
They remain alone because they have to do what no-one under them can do. They have to make the decisions that determine the tasks that all have to do to achieve the outcome. Sometimes these decisions are unpopular - in some cases, the ramifications can result in the death or ruination of individuals, groups, or even nations. And in this decision making the true leader does not unload the burden onto those who should not (or cannot) bear it. They make seek out counsel, they may discuss with their peers, but ultimately they understand that this burden - not only the decision making, but the fact that they are making it alone - is theirs and theirs alone to carry.
I confess that I personally struggle with this a great deal. I tend to be someone that likes to be with people, that puts a great deal of stock in knowing what is going on with everyone I work with or for. However, when the time comes for the hard decisions or the determination of direction I find myself too often trying to engage others around me in the decision. I may couch in consultation or being open, but what I have become aware of is the fact that I am secretly trying to transfer the burden of being alone to someone else. A burden which is rightfully my own to bear.
Because ultimately to be a leader is to have been put in a place of authority because you have the knowledge and ability to make those decisions - if a group were needed, it would always be a team that was hired to lead, not the individual. And in that alone time one often finds the clarity needed to make the hard decisions, a clarity which can escape those who are constantly seeking more and more input rather than spending the time considering things deeply.
To be a leader is to be alone - but in that being alone, the leader finds the ability to make the best decisions for the best reasons - not because it has been democratically decided on, but because the leader has had to forge them
One day a low-ranking samurai, the tax collector of his district, stopped at the house of a poor farmer. The samurai had already taxed the man's land and crops but was looking for a way to find additional money. Walking around the man's house, he came upon a a series of upright green stems. Smiling to himself in anticipation of finding an onion or garlic at the end, he reached down in triumph - only to pull out the bottom of the plant, white where it had been under the soil and with soil clinging to the rootlets, which came off on the samurai's clothing. In disgust he threw down the plant, brushed off his clothing, sniffed derisively at the poverty around him, then mounted up and rode off with his footman trotting behind.
The farmer waited until the samurai left then smiled. He had not intended to eat leeks tonight but seeing as how the samurai had already done the work for him, it would be a shame not enjoy his efforts.
Application: Not everything of value appears to have value.
A leader is one who makes decisions.
This is the common assumption of the world around us. Of course leaders make decisions. They make decisions all the time - in fact, we have come to expect our leaders to decide everything for us, whether we agree or not. They are, after all, the leaders.
That said, most leaders are not not good decision makers.
I have been around leaders. I have worked with leaders. And I can say with legitimate confidence that most leaders do not know the first thing about making decisions. Pretty harsh words, I know.
Why? Because there are only two things that true leaders think of when they make decisions:
1) Does this serve the larger goal and how?
2) Does this make things better or worse?
Does this serve the larger goal and how? Does this decision move those under the leader - a company, a group, a family, an association - closer towards the self identified goal? If it does not, the decision should be no. If it does, how does it do this? Underlying this is the concept that the leader is not making the decision in their own best interest but in the interest of others.
Does this make things better or worse? Is this a decision that is, frankly, ethical? Does it serve the good? Or is one in which the grey is indulged in because it is easier or more profitable or quicker? Decisions which are always ethical and good are quick to explain; those which are not always seem to take a great deal longer and start with phrases such as "Well, you see..." or "It is complicated...." or "You are not really looking at the whole picture...".
If you wish to be the right sort of leader, the best one, simply follow this path to greatness:
1) Find a leader who practices these principles on a daily basis.
2) Do whatever you can to work for/be with this individual.
3) Learn to make decisions based on the two principles above.
Decision making may be technically difficult and require great wisdom. But these requirements should never be squandered to expediency or self interest.
In our lives we remember the great leaders who truly made difficult and yet great decisions. All the others pass in th
One day a young samurai and his master were walking down the street. Seeing an artisan who did not appear to bow quickly enough to him, the young samurai lifted his fist to strike him, only to find it suddenly grasped by his master, who humbly bowed to the artisan, begged his forgiveness. The artisan smiled, bowed deeply, and continued on his way.
Later the young samurai asked his master "Why did you prevent me from striking a man that failed to show us honor?"
His master replied "Did you know the man who you were about to strike?" At the samurai's negative nod, he said "That man is the greatest makers of sayas (scabbards) in the province. He is, in fact the one who made your own. While you may not think he showed us enough honor, your sword sings his praises every day."
Application: Never judge by appearance. You cannot know how others have influenced your life.
A leader is responsible.
That is an axiom of leadership of course, the base level of leadership that almost every book with quote and almost every superior will tell you. "You are responsible" you will hear until you are sick of the phrase. Which is fine as far as it goes. Where I would like to go today is an area that I think leaders do not account for often enough in the area or responsibility: the fact that they are responsible because ultimately, they are alone.
A grim thought to say the least, you might think. Surely you cannot be suggesting that leaders are truly alone? They have resources, they have support groups, they have individuals they can reach out to. And that is certainly true. But at a very basic level, the leader remains alone.
Why? Because to be a leader is to understand that no-one else is coming. There is no-one else who is going to make themselves responsible for the results, although plenty of people may show up after the fact to take credit for the results. If you want to make anything happens - dreams, goals, achievements - the leader needs to accept the fact that no-one will be there to make sure that things happen. It is only themselves.
I confess that this is a difficult concept for me to grab. I have always worked in the world of effort in, effort out: if I do the work, I make the grade. If I do the work, I get the reward. But always in the back of my mind was the thought that if I stumbled or had issues or could not make forward progress there would be someone behind me to move the issue forward. What I have come to understand is that in fact while there may be assistance there will never be acceptance by others for the completion of the task - in other words, I am ultimately responsible because no-one else will be.
I guess I never grasped this until now. I always thought - and maybe it was true - that someone else would be there to do what I could not or would not. Perhaps I have been l fortunate in my choice of friends and colleagues. But fortune is not something that can be relied on.
If the leader sets the goals for themselves and others, then the leader needs to understand that they are responsible - not just for seeing them done but for realizing and accepting that there is no-one else that will do it for them - or sometimes, even help.
As Galadriel tells Frodo in The Fellowship of The Ring "To be a Ring bearer is to be alone." Likewise on a fundamental level, to be a leader is to be responsible - and accept that you must make the things you want happen. No-one else will.
One day a Beetle found itself in a strong wind. Lamenting its plight, it cried "If only I had something to which to cling."
As if heard by Fate, the Beetle was suddenly blown into a solid surface onto which it could grab. The Beetle cried out in joy - and was eaten by the Raven on which it had landed.
Application: Not every place we land in the midst of our troubles promises safety.
A leader is one who is inspired.
Interestingly I do not think that most leaders would define themselves as having this quality is you asked them. Inspiration sounds too ethereal, too insubstantial, perhaps even too spiritual in certain quarters. Yet without inspiration, leaders will ultimately fail in whatever they are trying to do.
Why? Because in order to succeed, a leader has to believe passionately in what they are about and what they are doing. The road to any accomplishment is difficult. Most people will on see walls and obstacles, things that prevent forward movement when things get difficult. It is the leader with their inspiration to move forward that will bring everyone along with them and, at times, carry all on their shoulders.
If you have ever worked for someone who called themselves a leader but was uninspired you know of which I speak. This is because this sort of leadership is the sort that is not really leadership towards an objective but leadership for any other number of reasons: self gratification, self importance, personal enrichment at the expense of others. When difficult situations occur this sort of leader either grinds those they lead to the ground or treats them as tools and pawns to move their own agenda forward. They may move things towards an objective but it will be dragging, not be leading.
Inspiration is critical because leaders - the good ones - are following a vision. Maybe it is a personal one, maybe it is an apparent one, maybe it is something that is obvious but difficult - but there is a vision. An endpoint. Something that needs doing, something that needs fixing, perhaps something that even needs creating. And the vision is the inspiration for the leader, the driver for where they are going. It sings to them when they are tired, lures them on when they are weak, gently uplifts them when they feel that they themselves cannot go on.
It is this inspiration that helps leader to lead others. To give freely of encouragement and advice, to find the power to encourage others, to lead by example. And to communicate the power of the vision that they have inside to those around them so that they too may energized by that which the leader sees.
I would submit that perhaps the most useful question one could ask in any situation where one is about to put one's self under one who would be one's leader -whether it be in the context of work, personal activity, intellectual pursuit, or spiritual matter is this: What is your inspiration? What is your vision? May this answer guide us in who we follow - and may the question drive us to find the inspiration, the vision for why we ar
A Maple and a Pine grew side by side in a garden. One day during autumn the Pine noticed the maple's leaves were turning red and then falling off. "Ah, friend Maple" said the pine, "how lamentable the loss of your leaves! You will appear spindly before all who walk in the garden".
"Your concern is touching" replied the Maple, "but do not worry. My leaves will appear again in the spring and once again I will be full."
"Does it bother you, this constant cycle?" asked the Pine. "My needles are ever green and so I never appear this way."
"It is not bothersome at all" replied the Maple. "People look to you and take joy in the fact you are always full and green, reminding them of eternity; people look to me and take joy in the fact that I am always changing, reminding them of the brevity of life."
Application: Take that which you are and find the joy it brings to others.