Earning the right to lead: a downside


The common narrative: “People need to have succeeded practically in a particular field before they qualify to speak or lead in that area”. Yes, it’s a valid point….but, to an extent.

Now, here’s what I mean, I have discovered that many people who are smart enough to contribute at a level often draw back because they think they have nothing much to offer. They often refuse to lead because, in their own words, “who am I?”, or “what do I have to say amidst the many great voices in the space…?” But that’s not correct. Part of the challenge I often worry about is that in our society, the smart tend to downplay their intelligence (maybe due to the fact that the more a person knows, the more he realizes he doesn’t know) while the people who aren’t so bright often assume that they are smarter than they are (and sometimes than others). It’s a problem. A big problem that has eaten deep into the very fabrics of our society. At one time, I was discussing with a friend and he mentioned that he didn’t feel it was time to write a book…because he felt he had done nothing…and that he didn’t see it right to add to the conversation in his line of work. And I told him I was also there before and used to see it that way, until I fought hard to put that mentality aside and within four months, I had put out two books (one and two). And since then, I have had people from different walks of life, people I didn’t even believe could find value or meaning in my message contact me to say, they learnt a lot and found my message valuable. That’s the way it is…we must all keep lending our voices and sharing our unique perspectives. There may be tons of information around but that doesn’t equate knowledge and it is knowledge that leads to transformation. And transformation is measurable…therefore, if there’s still room, then we need everybody who knows something to keep talking and adding to the existing body of knowledge, so as to give change a greater chance of happening, in people’s lives and in society.

I’m reminded of the saying by the social scientist, WB. Yates, which goes, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”. It is the same reason why of all things, the elites (in most climes) hands over the machinery of statecraft to loafers and opportunists who merely show-up, while they get busy with their private interests at the detriment of society.

The thing is, in today’s world, there’s no law, for example, that says that before someone can become a successful political leader, he must have been in active politics or must have risen through the ranks – that argument doesn’t hold water. In the same way that for one to become a football coach, such a person must have played active football. No. That’s why we have great coaches around the world who never played football professionally. If your own destiny path takes you from being a player to becoming a coach then fine, if otherwise, it still doesn’t matter. If you sense that you have a calling to first be a player, by all means play but if you sense you have a calling to coach (whether football coach or life coach or any other permutation of leadership), please learn the technical ropes and lead (even if it means doing so on the job).

I like to think that the single most important variable is the choice to lead and we need this across every facet of our society. People need to show up. And showing up has nothing to do with mastery….a lot of times we merely want someone to stand up and say I will lead, even when he isn’t particularly sure of the path to the preferred future for all. Someone who is visionary. It’s the difference between a leader and a manager. A president is not expected to be a specialist in every field, but what we expect him/her to do is to galvanize all of the best brains together to build the nation. If we wait for someone with a blend of technocratic acumen (across every field) plus great leadership ability, we might wait forever.

Here’s the takeaway: we need you to believe in yourself enough, to show up and to lead us, because you can!

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