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As humans, we share so many things in common despite our individuality and uniqueness. So profound amongst them is our strong desire to make impact, to matter and to change the world, despite the fact that our definition of the world is not common. Is your world flat? spherical? big? small? It does not matter! I have discovered a failureproof roadmap you can follow in your quest to change your world in your sphere(s) of choice. Note, failureproof!
So, Oswald Sander defined leadership as simply influence, and my question is: who is influencing who? Without the aid of the dictionary, the word ‘influence’ as well as ‘lead’ presupposes the existence of two entities and/ or perceptual positions: the subject and the object. The subject acts upon the object. It’s proactive because it initiates the action towards the object. Based on the above premise, it won’t be out of place to state that, the subject performs the act of leading & influencing the object. This relationship I’ll call “me-lead-you.”
The described relationship structure, in my opinion, should be easy to comprehend, for though, the subject & object are in a relationship, tangled and coupled together in a way; they remain two separate entities. Have you thought about a relationship where the subject & object is one and the same? I mean where the subject is the object and the object is the subject. I am describing a relationship where for instance, I, Oluyide, is both the subject and the object; Action and reaction, giving and receiving, Leadership and followership taking place in the same vessel. By inference, that’s me leading and influencing me! So, I like to call this the “me-lead-me” relationship. I figure this could be more complex to comprehend, especially when compared with ‘me-lead-you’ relationship earlier described.
A thorough look into our contemporary society shows that the negligence of the ‘me-lead-me’ in favour of the ‘me-lead-you’ relationship has grievously plagued the quality of leadership in families, businesses, governments and countries. This could be traceable to the fact that the cultural and prevalent orientation about leadership does not seem to encourage, nor to say the least, acknowledge leadership relationship of some sort with self. In fact, in some arena, influencing self is not seen as leadership. It is therefore quite pathetic and unfortunate that the popular understanding of leadership, tends to promote and reward leading others over self-leadership. Against such paradigm, it must be emphatically said that, to restore the glory of true leadership, our society must consciously and intentionally promote self-leadership as prerequisite and sine-qua-non to leading others.
Ralph Waldo Emerson captured my thoughts perfectly when he said: “If you will lift me up, you have to be on higher ground.” What a profound truth! An invitation to think ‘me-lead-me’ before ‘me-lead- you.’ As Stephen R. Covey puts it: ‘Private victory precedes public victory’ In other words, we must actively possess the leadership substance in order to give it, and to have it folks, we must be it! May be that’s why Mahatma Gandhi, the trans-generational leadership icon whose life was an epitome of ‘me- lead-me’ invites us to be the change we want to see in the world. The true biography of Gandhi and lots of leaders that continue to win our admiration only confirm that each of us is a work in progress. I don’t know about you, but I still disobey and snooze my own alarm from time to time. Despite, no matter how many times we are beaten to the ground, as long as we are not buried, we must never give up the life-time goal of victory over self. It is the foundation of every enduring leadership.
The crux of the dichotomy between Jesus Christ and the Pharisees could be summarized into the prioritization of living and leading as to which comes first. Jesus accused the Pharisees of leading at the expense of living. If you recall, Jesus accused the Pharisees of loading on others burdens they themselves would and could not carry, which is a demonstration of the breach of the ‘me-lead-me’ principle and way of life, which puts living before leading. It is only natural that leaders who have conquered self-lead right because they live right!
Let me add that, Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation is a man we cannot afford to travel in a haste when it comes to the living before leading principle. He is a man that never ceases to amaze me. He caused a revolution and led one of the most populous and diverse nations to independence without the possession of any formal authority. It took this one remarkable man to defeat the British Empire and free a nation of millions of people.
Watching a video clip titled Gandhi, I got more fascinated by the magnitude of influence he had gathered simply through the application of the ‘me-lead-me’ principle. To state an instance, Gandhi brought this to bear during the disagreement between the Hindu and the Muslim communities of India, which was the first attempt at breaking the then India into its historic parts of today. History revealed he went on hunger strike, starved himself for days, refusing food until the Hindus and Muslims resolved their differences and agreed to stay together as a nation.
Gandhi’s biography revealed a man that mastered his appetites, put them under control and used them to get results for other lives. The height of leadership is victory over self! Until a man conquers himself, he cannot influence others aright. Men and women of similar biographies know that ‘the hardest battle to fight in life is the battle over self.’ As Sir Edmund Hilary phrased it, “It is not the mountains we conquer but ourselves.” Whoever places leading others ahead of self is definitely a disaster waiting to happen. The battle is first within. Listening to Earl Nightingale, one of the fathers of personal development, I heard a story which will help us soak-in the vital message of this piece.
A man absorbed in a game of football, in order to put off the disturbance and distraction from his little son tore a large newspaper with the image of the globe into puzzle pieces for his little boy to put together. Believing this will occupy the lad for the remaining duration of the football game; he confidently resumed his exciting relaxation. To his surprise, in no time, the little boy returned with the image of the world perfectly glued together. In his amazement he asked the lad, how he was able to accomplish such result in so little a time.
“There was a picture of a man at the other side of the paper”, responded the boy, “when I put the man together, the world was together.” “Yes it is true son,” said the father, now totally distracted from the game of football as he soaked in the invaluable lesson from an unexpected quarter, “when you put the man together, his world will automatically be together.”
What a story! If you are changing, the world is changing. Never undermine the power of ONE. It is a highly contagious number. As Carl Rogers puts it: “What is most personal is most general” LIVING MUST PRECEDE LEADING! The most critical factor in leadership is not your ability to influence others, it is your ability to influence yourself.
What can you do to change the world today? Take that course? resume physical exercise? read that book? listen empathically to that person? Please share here what you will do to change your world today you might inspire someone to change her own life too. I will be glad to connect with you on how I could help you change your world.
About the Writer
Patrick Oluyide is a World Bank consultant and assessor based in Lagos, Nigeria. Certified by the IFC, ILO & the Learning and Performance Institute (LPI), Patrick has over 15 years of practice. His areas of expertise include business strategy, business process re-engineering, organisational development and performance management.
Patrick is a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) who has served as Club President, Area Director, Division Director and is currently District 94 (Central & Western Africa) Club Growth Director. You may find some of his articles on LinkedIN (linkedin.com/in/patrickoluyide); or contact him at [email protected]