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Leader or Parasite

Leader or Parasite

“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.”

Lao Tzu

No-one tells you this, but the day you are placed into a leadership position a whole lot of things change. In the past two articles I looked at how our thinking has to change. Another thing that has to change is our attitude. Let me start off by saying that the day you were appointed as a leader, you gave up the right to be selfish. You can embrace this, and accept the fact that it is part of the package, or you can fight it, and make your and your team’s or partner’s life miserable.

Many of us see leadership as a position of importance, and if we see a leader it is easy to think that they are better than or more important than others. Very few of us can see a leader as a person who has a function, but is not better than the others. Even words we use have connotations in our minds: Head, boss, superior, supervisor, leader, controller, overseer, manager, director, chief. We use phrases like “Look up to leaders”. None of these are helpful in understanding how you see yourself as a leader

Let’s look at a word for leader: head.

Definition: The upper part of the human body, or the front or upper part of the body of an animal, typically separated from the rest of the body by a neck, and containing the brain, mouth, and sense organs.

The head is just part of the body that has a function. That function is vital, but that does not make it better. In fact, if the rest of the nervous system does not function then no matter how good it is, the head cannot do its job.
The leader of a team directs the team, just as a head in a body directs the body.

The head directs the hand not to touch the stove because it is hot. The head directs the body to dress warmly so that it does not get hyperthermia. The head directs the body to run when there is danger.

Although the head directs the body, its primary function is to care for it.

Put this on your mirror and read it to yourself every day: “I am the head of this team, so my primary function is to care for it.”

I was on the plane in 2010, flying from London to Cape Town. It was January, and there was a group of British Olympic athletes on their way to Stellenbosch to train in the sunshine.

I got chatting to one of the ladies and she was amazed to hear that I had been married for 35 years and was still happy. The next question from her was the obvious one: “How do you do it? What is the secret?”

My answer was that it all comes down to one question. If we NEVER ask this question, we will have a great marriage, but if we ask the question, the marriage is in trouble. The same is true for any team.

The question is this: “But what about me?”

The moment I am selfish and want my way, or want things done for my benefit. The moment I ask: “But what about me”, I am no longer functioning as a leader. A so-called leader that is selfish and makes it about themselves is not really a leader.

Let me define a leader: A leader is someone who cares for others and puts others before themselves, who puts the team or the company or the country or the family before themselves. A leader is one who lays down their life for others.

If you exist to care for the team then you are a good, properly functioning leader. If the team exists to care for you, then you are a parasite.

Written by Doug Johnson

Published on 22nd May 2020

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