“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.” – Chris Hadfield
I was browsing my social media account when I came across a story that really caught my attention. The heading said: “How do you lead?” Instead of answering the question, it shared a story:
A young man saw his primary school teacher at a wedding reception. He went to greet him with all respect and admiration. “Can you still recognize me, sir?” he asked.
The teacher looked at the young man and replied: “I don’t think so. Could you please remind me how we met?”
The young man recounted: “I was your pupil in the third grade. I stole a wrist watch belong to my then classmate because it was unique and fascinating.
My classmate came to you crying that his wrist watch had been stolen and you ordered all pupils in the class to stand on a straight line, facing the wall with our hands up and our eyes closed so you could check our pockets.
At this point, I became jittery and terrified of the outcome of the search. The same I will face after the other pupils discovered that I stole the watch, the opinions of my teachers will form about me, the thought of being named a ‘thief’ till I leave the school and my parents’ reaction when they get to know about my action.
All these thoughts flowing across my heart, when suddenly it was my turn to be check. I felt your hand slipped into my pocket and you brought out the watch. I was gripped with fear, expecting the worse to be announced. I was surprised I didn’t hear anything, but Sir, you continued searching other pupils’ pockets till you got to the last pupil.
When the search was over, you asked us to open our eyes and sit on our chairs. I was afraid to sit because I was thinking you will came me out soon after everyone was seated.
But to my amazement, you showed the watch to the class, gave it to the owner and you never mentioned the name of the one who stole the watch. You didn’t say a word to me, and you never mentioned the story to anyone.
Throughout my stay in the school, no teacher or pupil knew what happened. This incident naturally taught me a great lesson and I resolved in my heart never to get myself involved in taking whatever is not mine. I thought to myself, you saved my dignity.
Do you remember the story now, Sir? You can’t simply forget this story Sir!”
The teacher looked at the young man and said: “I vividly remember the story. I found the watch in a pocket but didn’t know in whose pocket the stolen watch was found that day because I searched your pockets while I also had my eyes closed.”
In life, the author (sorry, I don’t know who!) said, “we need wisdom for everything we do. As parents, teachers, leaders, etc., we should be able to close our eyes to some things. Not all misbehavior require punishment. Some will need encouragement, some mentoring, and some monitoring. Be a leader who impacts not one who shatters.”
American president Harry S Truman once said: “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
Remember Alexander the Great? He was a king of ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and a member of the Argead dynasty. He succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of 20.
He conquered most of the known world of his day. As a leader, he was feared and yet admired by his soldiers. And so, it came to pass that Alexander the Great and his army were dying of thirst after marching eleven days.
Suddenly, they came upon some local farmers who were fetching skins full of water from a hidden river. Seeing the famous general choked with thirst, they offered him a helmet filled with water. He asked them to who they were carrying the water. They told him, “To our children. But your life is more important than theirs. Even if they all perish, we can raise a new generation.”
Then Alexander took the helmet into his hands and looked around to see all his soldiers eyeing the water and licking their dry lips. He didn’t have the courage to drink, but gave back the water untouched to the farmers. “If only I would drink,” he explained, “the rest of the soldiers would be out of heart.”
At that, the soldiers rallied around him as never before and defied their fatigue and their thirst. “To follow such a leader is a great privilege,” they chorused.
Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher, said it well: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie has the same opinion. “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.” American businessman Arnold H. Glasow said it, too: “A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.”
To end this piece, allow me to quote the words of American-Korean physician Jim Yong Kim. “No matter how good you thin you are as a leader,” said the man who served as the 12th president of the World Bank, “the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.”