On Friday afternoon, I taught a workshop on The Purpose Of Leadership at the national convention of the business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi. The audience was primarily college campus leaders of the fraternity’s chapters. Time with student leaders is my favorite kind of opportunity – to speak with young people about the challenges and opportunities of leadership, and to help them find their path.
During the question and answer segment, one of the students asked me two questions that have stayed with me all weekend, because truly, they are such important questions to wrestle with if you plan to be a leader. The first question was this:
If you pursue the path of servant leadership, won’t you have critics?
I started by saying the obvious. If you choose servant leadership as your premise and purpose for leadership, you will be in the minority. Therefore, many of your peers and potential followers will be skeptics at a minimum. In the annals of history, anything that is not widely understood or widely valued is challenged, even ridiculed. So yes, you are likely to suffer critics if you aspire to be a servant leader.
But then I added if you choose to lead, no matter what your philosophy, you will have critics. By definition, the leader makes important choices for the people. You will make some people happy and others distraught. You can’t lead without making difficult choices. So yes, you are going to suffer critics regardless of your leadership model.
The student continues with the second question:
What can I do to prepare myself for the critics?
This is far more important a question because it acknowledges the leader is vulnerable to criticism and must be prepared.
Here are the four questions a leader must answer to be prepared in advance for the critics:
- Where? – The leader is expected to choose the destination; to answer the question, “where are we going?” Until the destination is clear, there are no critics, but there are also no followers.
- Why? – The leader decides why they are going to that particular destination and prepares to answer the objections of the people. The leader must have clear purpose or they will be vulnerable to the winds of criticism.
- How? – The leader decides ahead of time how they will act when under fire. The leader has deeply rooted principles that guide their actions. Their principles are so clear and well-practiced that they are unwavering when under attack.
- Who? – The leader knows who will benefit, who will be well-served by reaching the destination. Knowing who will benefit helps the leader stay focused and committed to who they must serve well at all times. And that is essentially the answer you want to be able to give your critics: The people are being well-served.
Herein lies my passion for asking you to discover your purpose for leadership. To lead well, you must know your purpose and your “principles”.
“The world stands aside to let anyone pass who knows where he is going.”~ David Starr Gordon
You must know who will be served well by the destination you choose. Until you know these answers, you are truly vulnerable to the critics. My advice? Get prepared.
thanks for organizing my thoughts so clearly! It provides the points for me to clearly articulate to others why they should lead, especially if they are in positions of informal authority. I have seen myself grown and others have commented as well on my growth since starting to follow your posts in Jan. Thanks for being open to share your wisdom with others and making it okay to be vulnerable.
Stephanie, I am so impressed with your personal commitment to growing your own leadership capability and that of the team you work with. You will make your workplace a better for all those entrusted to your care. Cheryl