Honoring a flawed leader
What if your breakthrough in life is on the other side of learning to honor a flawed leader?
This past week someone commented on my eBook on undisciplined employees ( you can download it here) and asked what to do with undisciplined bosses. I frantically typed my response and while typing I realised that I was very passionate about this topic. Passionate because it reminded me of scars that I carry.
Let me explain.
From a young age, I was continuously disappointed by adults. It started in an English kindergarten where I was seen as the weakling in class (I was Afrikaans speaking and could not speak English).
In grade 1 I was chastised by the teacher for crying for my mom on my first day of school at an Afrikaans school. (I had learned to interact with kids in English the previous 2 years and felt unsure as a result of my lack of Afrikaans domain language). I moved to another Afrikaans school the next day.
I was bullied by my grade 5 teacher (for being an Englishman), blamed for stealing my own R10 (while I came from a wealthy home) and hit repeatedly with a whistle cord on the rugby field because I did not have the skills to play provincial rugby (and apparently neither did the teacher).
In grade 4 I was terrified of Wednesdays because the rules were that if you forgot you P.E clothes you would be forced to do P.E. with the girls, in your underpants. I remember forgetting my clothes one day and cycling to school and crying so much that I could not see where I was going.
In high school, I was given 3 lashings for dropping a T-square from my drawing table. Got beaten with a plank because someone in our class was noisy (the rationale was that if they could not find the culprit, the whole class gets it). And was forced to think about my sins for a weekend (after I copied someone’s homework when I forgot to do it. – I was a top-performing student and not because I copied other people’s work) while I awaited my punishment with a cane the following Monday.
And this all happened as a result of flawed leadership.
And my story is mild when I listen to what my wife had to endure as a child. But the point is not the severity of the disappointment, but rather the results of this disappointment.
Today when I look at the people around me in business (employees and managers alike) I see many people who have been disappointed by leadership repeatedly. And the result are always the same. They end up shunning all leadership and decide to navigate life on their own.
They don’t take any advice from leaders or elders and they resort to making lots of mistakes and learning from them. I did the same. After all my disappointment I resented any leadership and rebelled at it silently (and sometimes not so silently) every time I encountered it. I just did not want to learn from someone who was potentially flawed (and forgetting that I was flawed too).
But this was a mistake and one that cost me dearly in my progression to becoming a leader myself. What I learned was that unless you can submit to leadership (and I mean, any leadership) and do as you are told (unless it violates your moral code) you will never become a whole person. And you will never be able to lead others.
You waste so much time relearning stuff and the bigger picture is that you end up living a life much smaller than what was destined for you. We are supposed to build on the good of the past. Our responsibility to humanity is to build on what others have built. That’s how we redeem ourselves and how we pay back the world for affording us the opportunity to continue living despite having made such a mess of most things.
I’m not saying the abuse I took as a child was acceptable, but I am saying that my response was detrimental to my growth.
And it’s hard because at some point you have to forgive that person or persons and decide to do the best you can with your own life. And the best you can do is to take the good from what you learned from that person and make it part of your armor for fighting the ever-growing battles in life that are coming your way.
The pay off is that you become stronger and better than them. You learn resilience and courage. And you develop resolve to never be that person to someone else. And that means you’re helping to fix the world. Had it not been for those seemingly inept adults, I would not be the person I am today. The bad experience made me a warrior and the good experiences gave me wisdom. Both necessary skills for the modern world.
One of my employees many years ago asked me “when are you done being led by the nose as an employee?”. “When does life afford you the opportunity to lead rather than follow?”. And my answer was “it happens when you’ve submitted your will to another human being. When you have learned to put YOUR needs down to focus on the needs of the leader. When you’ve become selfless in the pursuit of their needs and not yours”. In effect, when you’ve become a servant. That’s when it happens.
Because once you have grasped the concept of being a servant, you are able to transition to becoming a servant leader (Simon Sinek wrote a book about this and you can find it here). A servant leader serves his people because he has realised that only by realising their dreams, is he able to realise his. This is a fact.
A side note: I wonder how many marriages are in trouble because the princess of the house refuses to understand that she can only become all she needs to be if she can submit under the leadership of her king. Provided the king is present in the man.
Following leaders does not mean you follow them because they are right. You follow them because you honor the position, not the person. You know that the position is something you can learn from and want to attain (or aspire to) one day and that’s why you follow it.
All people are flawed including you and that means that there are no faultless leaders on earth. But it doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from following them. You’ll have to if you want to become significant. It’s one of the sacrifices of life.
Speaking and working against any leadership only hurts you. Stop it. Find a way to only see the best in your leader and ignore the things you don’t like (The only reason you don’t like those things is that it reminds you of your own flaws and how you resent them).
Following a leader and being accountable to someone is a necessary growth phase in your life. Don’t skip over it and don’t ignore the fact that these leaders have been put in your life for a reason. Some of them will be great experiences and others tough, but the tough ones will cause the greatest growth in your character.
Humans need hierarchies to function. We need structure and we aspire to order. This will not happen without leadership.
Make a decision today to respect and follow the leaders in your life. Forgive the ones that have hurt you (I did after he died of cancer) and decide to make the best of the ones to come. Do it for the position, not for the person and I promise you, your life will be better for it.
Have a servant heart-filled week.
P.S. People think the systems we sell at Ouch! Technologies to measure time and attendance in businesses are policing systems. They’re not, they’re a tool used by leadership to teach you how to be a true servant so that one day you too can become a servant leader.