What it means to lead

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately. We’re certainly suffering from the absence of it in many of the places you’d normally expect to look. Some people are saying there’s no leadership at all. Yet I think, if you look carefully, you’ll see leadership everywhere. And I think it’s really important to recognise it and celebrate it, because it’s in our true leaders that we can find hope.

So what does real leadership look like?

Real leaders raise themselves up by lifting up everyone else. They celebrate people with the courage to have divergent ideas, and they relish having their own ideas challenged. They help people to grow with praise and encouragement, and they’re never too important to pick up a vacuum or rearrange the furniture when it’s all hands on deck.

Real leaders see things that need doing, problems that need solving, and people that need helping, that the rest of us tend to walk past with averted eyes. They get things done, and they get their hands dirty. They notice the people who clean their floors and empty the dishwasher. They know their names and ask about their families.

Real leaders don’t hunker down, wring their hands, and say “I wish there was something I could do!” They go out and find ways to make a difference. They do the things that people say can’t be done. And they rally other people to do the same.

Real leaders also have bad days. They have days where they do and say the wrong thing, and disappoint themselves hugely. And they own it. They are not afraid to show the world that they are human, that they make mistakes. And real leaders make amends.

Real leaders see the people around them. They notice when they are suffering, and they don’t look away. They remember birthdays, celebrate milestones, and stand shoulder to shoulder with their people.

Real leaders are real. Their people know that they have lives, loved ones, and troubles the way we all do. They are authentic, and open when the going gets tough. They don’t tell you everything, but they are open enough that you can relate to them. They connect with people.

Weirdly, for the most part, real leaders don’t recognise themselves as real leaders. They are so busy lifting everyone else up, and trying to be better, that they don’t see how extraordinary they really are.

So if you have a real leader in your life, make sure you tell them how much you appreciate them. Because real leaders tend to see everything that still needs to be done so clearly, that they can’t see how much they’ve already achieved, how much they help people. And they take problems to heart. All of the problems. Which means their own hearts need a little extra encouragement sometimes.