My coach likes to say that, “everything worthwhile is uphill”. Nothing could be truer than this, “being a successful leader is an uphill journey”.
In one of his interviews, Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, shared a story of how he was criticized by the media on “his failure to reform the UN in 6 weeks”. As he was responding to the allegations, another diplomat interjected, and said “what are you complaining about, Mr. Secretary General, you had more time than God had to create the world…”.
Kofi’s response was “God had a unique advantage, He worked alone…” every time I recall this story, I laugh because it has a lot of humor and some truth at the same time. This is not unique to the former UNSG, but common to all leaders. There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to run fast, run alone, if you want to run far, run together.” The together part is the hard part.
If leadership was about making people happy, praising them, and keeping things the way they are it would be simple. Unfortunately this is not what leadership is about even if you may carry a title on you. Leadership is actually hard! Getting people to understand the vision, accepting the inevitable change and running to fulfill the said vision is an “uphill journey" and not for the faint of heart.
In my last issue, I talked about leaders having to pay the cost of growth. In this article, I will share the fact that hard choices and criticisms are the other form of costs leaders must be willing to pay.
Hard choices; one of the best books I have read that explain fully the notion of the challenges of leadership, is entitled, “leadership on the line – staying alive through the dangers of leading” it was written by two Harvard Professors, Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linksky. The premise is that to lead is to live dangerously, its risky, it is hard, but it is worth it!
One of the reasons why it often becomes difficult is the hard choices leaders face on a daily basis and their attitude about the hard stuff. Hard choices are usually the cost that many leaders are not willing to pay.
I recall a speech by Pastor Rick Warren during Rwanda culture day in San Francisco, 2016, in which he shared several reasons why he loves Rwanda. One of them was that “Rwanda has refused to be pressured by outsiders”. It is hard choices like these that have set Rwanda as a country apart. A leader who will take a stand and sets a vision to move ahead, and manages to rally his country to embrace the said vision will inevitably have enemies, lose support and become a target. But it will be so worth it for the people he chose to serve.
While it is often simpler to “play it safe”, to go along with every body and avoid the hard choices and decisions, it is costly because in the long run there will be no improvement and the leader will not get his/her organization or country anywhere. I have seen that bosses who rarely take decisions, or those who avoid taking a stand make their followers feel unsafe, frustrated and unmotivated.
Facing Criticisms. In my article 'You are being watched', I shared my thoughts about how leaders become examples for those they lead. Once you are on “camera”, everything you do is under the harsh lenses of public scrutiny.
Consequently, you will be criticized. Most of us don’t understand this truth. In fact, we are very surprised and shocked when we are criticized. Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.”
No leader should send signals of indecisiveness for the fear of attacks or resistance. Obviously, I should emphasize that here; I am talking of actions that are legit. Only those leaders who are ready and are willing to pay the price will get tangible results and have a lasting impact for the people and the entities they lead.
What is your attitude towards criticism and facing hard choices?. I hope this article encourages and inspires you as a leader to be bold and courageous as you defend your causes and positions for the good of those you lead. Go bold and go big!.