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The First Step to Becoming A Leader

Ifiok Sampson, a leadership enthusiast, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

I have always been fascinated with the subject of leadership. Having read a few materials on the subject and studied the lives of a few good leaders, I have come to realize that the first step to being a leader is to command the respect of the people you lead. That, for me, is the most vital ingredient of leadership.

Therefore, the first and most important thing a leader must do is to earn the respect of those he aspires to lead. Until he succeeds at doing that, he can hardly lead them.

After some time of rumination, I have discerned some means by which one can earn people's recognition and respect. I wish to share them in this piece. I will progress from the ground up. That is, I will begin from the least of the means of earning respect and progress in that order until we get to the most important.

A picture illustrating the leader's influence

A picture illustrating the leader's influence

Therefore, the first and most important thing a leader must do is to earn the respect of those he aspires to lead. Until he succeeds at doing that, he can hardly lead them.

Natural physical endowments, looks, and personal grooming

Believe it or not, a handsome face, a great build or physique, a beautiful face or body, a good voice, and such physical endowments earn respect for those who possess them from nearly everyone, but most especially from the opposite gender. It gives them some 'unfair' advantage over those that are not so endowed, in many circles.

Also, a good dress sense and proper personal grooming are almost guaranteed to earn you instant recognition and respect anytime any day. That is why there are expressions like 'making a statement with one's dressing' and 'power dressing.' The stock of this means of earning respect is rising in importance and popularity these days, giving expression to the all too familiar 'packaging' phenomenon.

The reason is that humanity is becoming vainer each passing day. People now borrow fashion items, cars, and nearly everything to impress and earn the respect of others. Despite its rising popularity, however, it is yet one of the flimsiest, most fleeting, and most fickle ways to earn respect. Respect earned by this means is not even skin deep!

That is not to take anything away from the fact that one needs to pay enough attention to one's appearance and personal grooming. My emphasis is on the fact that it should not be the only means by which one seeks to earn the respect of others.

The next on the list of the means of earning the respect of others to influence and lead them is:

Also, a good dress sense and proper personal grooming are almost guaranteed to earn you instant recognition and respect anytime any day. That is why there are expressions like 'making a statement with one's dressing' and 'power dressing.' The stock of this means of earning respect is rising in importance and popularity these days, giving expression to the all too familiar 'packaging' phenomenon.

Position of authority

Without a doubt, a position of authority, in whichever area of human endeavor, confers on one the respect of others. Many persons erroneously view having a position as the highest means of earning the respect of others. Leadership experts, however, say it is the exact opposite of that. They share the opinion that having a leadership position does not necessarily make one a leader. They argue that positional leadership is the lowest form of leadership.

That is because if a man, who does not possess the qualities that command respect to influence others to follow him, for some reason, finds himself in a position of leadership or authority, he will not be able to lead effectively. People will only defer to him because of his office but will not genuinely follow him. Over time such an individual might resort to using the powers that the position confers on him to demand or coerce respect out of people. He becomes dictatorial.

But the day he is out of the position, he loses the respect and influence. That is because whatever respect and influence one earns by his position of authority is ephemeral. The story of the life and leadership of Idi Amin of Uganda readily comes to mind here.

Effective leadership illustrated

Effective leadership illustrated

Without a doubt, a position of authority, in whichever area of human endeavor, confers on one the respect of others. Many persons erroneously view having a position as the highest means of earning the respect of others. Leadership experts, however, say it is the exact opposite of that. They share the opinion that having a leadership position does not necessarily make one a leader. They argue that positional leadership is the lowest form of leadership.

Natural talents, gifts, special abilities, and the achievement of a notable feat

There is no gainsaying the fact that talents and abilities earn one the admiration and respect of others. They are indeed a very widely acclaimed means of gaining respect from others.
Now, everyone has one talent or the other. That is a fact not subject to debate.

The almost even distribution of talents among everyone prompted Stephen King to say: "Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work". And he was right!

But not everyone has been able to identify their unique talents and special abilities. Again, not everyone, even after having identified their talent, is willing to pay the price to develop and hone them into marketable skills and proficiencies. What that means is that not too many persons can command the respect of others because of their talents.

The respect and influence talents and gifts bring in terms of reach and sphere of influence far outstrip what the other two means that we have so far discussed offer, especially in our age of pay-TV, the Internet, and social media. Think about sports stars, music stars, actors, actresses, comedians, radio and TV personalities, and other performers and the influence they wield all around the world.

Two events have happened in Nigeria in 2017 that bore eloquent testimony to the powerful influence this class of persons wield on the populace. The first was the #EnoughIsEnough protest against economic hardship championed by popular Nigerian recording artiste, Innocent Idibia alias 2Face Idibia. Even though he failed in his leadership role at the last minute, the protest still went on anyway.

The second was the #ReturnOrResign protest co-led by another renowned musician, Charles Oputa alias Charly Boy, which was much more successful than 2Face's. The effect that these events had on the populace was incredible because of the personalities behind them.

Mainstream and social media lapped up everything about the events for the same reason, and so the two events were massively publicized almost for free. That kind of capacity to mobilize and galvanize the people to action is a big deal even for those in leadership positions.

These celebrities easily influence people's choices in fashion, language, mannerisms, lifestyles, behavior, and even culture generally. However, with all this far-reaching and wide-ranging influence, this means of earning respect seems to offer pretty little in terms of effective leadership.

Part of the reason for this is that most of these individuals, especially those in the performing arts community, hardly consider giving attention to developing their leadership qualities. They are usually very passionate about their dominant talents and would readily invest all of their energies to develop them, to the exclusion of their other traits.

They focus almost exclusively on their dominant talents because those are what readily bring fame and fortune, which they so much desire. Can anyone begrudge them? But that is the great tragedy of this means of earning respect and influence to lead effectively.

Renowned writer and leadership development expert, John C. Maxwell, aptly titled one of his books, 'Talent Is Never Enough.' I recommend this book to everyone to read. Quite frankly, when it comes to leadership, as it is also true for all other spheres of human endeavor, talent is never enough.

Many famous personalities in the performing arts and sports world, who had hoped to ride on the sheer strength of their popularity to political leadership positions, discovered to their chagrin that talent and fame alone could not guarantee their success. Wyclef Jean of Haiti and many more, maybe not-so-famous ones, readily come to mind.

In 2015, several notable celebrities in the Nigerian movie industry, including Kate Henshaw, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Bob-Manuel Odokwu, Tony Tertuila, Kenny St. Ogungbe, Julius Agwu, and 9ice attempted to leverage on their fame to get into political positions but failed woefully. Olubankole Wellington, aka Banky W, a musician, had a shot at becoming a lawmaker in the 2019 elections but narrowly missed the ticket to represent Eti-Osa Federal Constituency of Lagos State seat in Nigeria's House of Representatives.

But in fairness to these talented individuals, a few of them have succeeded in making the transition. George Opong Weah of Liberia, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Clint Eastwood of the US, Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines, Desmond Elliott of Nigeria, and few others, succeeded.

Besides these easily recognizable, visible, and widely celebrated individuals, talents equally abound in the not-so-visible academic/intellectual community—in science, technology, medicine, law, business, management, literary studies, humanities, security, and indeed in all spheres of human endeavor. Talents in these spheres are a better fit for leadership because of their rigorous education and training.

We come to the big one as we inch closer to the top of our list.

The leaders knows and shows the way

The leaders knows and shows the way

Money, riches, wealth and fame

Now, this is BIG! The whole of humanity is big on it, has been big on it in all the ages, and will remain big on it till the end of time!! The age-old and worldwide acclaim that wealth has as a means of earning respect and influence is indisputable. The Holy Bible, in the twin books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, speaks so much about riches and wealth. Incidentally, King Solomon, reputed to be the wealthiest man that ever lived, authored those books.

These two books comprehensively discuss the subject under the following sub-themes: the source of wealth; legitimate means to acquire wealth; the power and influence of wealth; the limits of the power and influence of wealth; the transient nature of wealth; the purpose and proper use of wealth; caution against the corrupting effect of wealth; the vanity of wealth; the danger of an insatiable and uncontrolled appetite for wealth; the peace inherent in contentment, among other sub-themes.

In summary, the Bible gives the right perspective about money, riches, and wealth. It also speaks about the evil effects of poverty and penury.

All through the ages, men have always strived to amass wealth to earn respect. Many would do anything and everything--from the legal and legitimate to the illegal and downright criminal--to make money to be influential in society. And they do this because humanity worships Mammon, the god of wealth.

These days, all one needs to do to command society's respect is to flaunt one's wealth. Just show up with your wealth, it doesn't seem to matter how you acquired it, and you are guaranteed instant influence, such respect that borders on worship, and fame. You get whatsoever you want, including top leadership positions. And you get away with whatever you do! Yes, humanity has become that vain.

That said, I must also make categorically clear that wealth in itself is not bad in much the same way that money is not evil. The problem is in how we go about acquiring wealth and how we choose to use it. Whichever way one views money, whether in the positive or negative light, does not change the fact that money is needed. Money answers all things. Money is a defense. Money talks! And when it does, whatever it says gets done.

However, the power, respect, and influence that money offers can be so painfully temporary, transient, and fleeting that the man who depended solely on it to rise would often wonder about the meaning of life when he falls following the loss of his wealth. The power, respect, and influence fade away when the money fades away. When wealth fades away, the man who solely depended on it to lead loses followers quickly, usually to the newest rich kid on the block. As the riches go, so goes the influence.

There is yet one more advantage that wealth offers its owner, which is very useful for leadership, though. It is exposure. The wealthy usually hobnob, wine, and dine with leaders. Leaders cherish the company of the wealthy too. So the wealthy can learn leadership by exposure to and association with leadership if they so desire to. This advantage extends even to their children.

Knowledge, education, and learning

People often look up to people who are knowledgeable about solutions to knotty issues. Knowledge gives confidence and courage, which are both very important to effective leadership. A knowledgeable person earns the respect of others because he can proffer workable solutions that practically solve problems.

Men of great learning are revered and venerated. Men like Aristotle, Socrates, Descartes, Bernard Shaw, to mention just a few, were revered in their time and are still being venerated today for their great learning. Their lives and works have become subjects of studies in institutions of learning all around the world.

These men did not hold positions of authority, but they greatly influenced the leaders of their time as they still do leaders today. Learning is the reason men like Nigeria's Prof Wole Soyinka speaks to power, and power listens.

Education reforms and refines the human mind. It opens up the mind to possibilities and breaks down the limiting walls of ignorance and superstition. The rigorous training the mind undergoes in the process of acquiring education helps stretch and expand its capacity to fathom otherwise complicated concepts. The educated man can articulate the contents of his mind to the understanding of others.

Education provides a window from which to see the world from a much broader perspective. The educated mind views situations from different perspectives. It can bring all of these perspectives together and from them proffer simple solutions to complex problems.

Education provides the right paradigm for the correct interpretation of events, situations, phenomena, and views while seeking to find the right solutions to life's issues. Education provides a pedestal upon which the leader stands and can see much farther than his followers.

O, how every leader needs to see so much farther than his followers, for that is the surest way by which he can lead them to the Promised Land! Moses, who led Israel out of Egyptian captivity, had was thoroughly educated in the best institutions of his time!

An effective leader must be knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects.

Members of the academic community, which I mentioned while discussing talents and gifts, rightly belong in this discussion. They may not be very visible and highly celebrated, but they are very influential, nonetheless. Even those in positions of leadership frequently consult with them for solutions to knotty issues. So, invariably they lead even the visible leaders, all thanks to their education and learning.

Even though it might appear that the influence of education has waned slightly in recent times, its value is still high enough to accord it a second spot on the list of the means of earning respect and influence for effective leadership. And it can maintain its position for a long time to come despite stiff opposition from the other means.

Anyone who desires to be an effective leader must pursue education and seek knowledge and learning.

As we come to the concluding part of this piece, we arrive at the summit of our discourse as we consider the singular most important means of earning the respect of others and influencing them to lead them.

Character and integrity

Allow me to quote a passage from the 'Book of books.'

"This is a true saying: If a man is eager to be a church leader, he desires an excellent work. A church leader must be without fault; he must have only one wife, be sober, self-controlled, and orderly; he must welcome strangers in his home; he must be able to teach; he must not be a drunkard or a violent man, but gentle and peaceful; he must not love money; he must be able to manage his own family well and make his children obey him with all respect. For if a man does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of the church of God? He must be mature in the faith so that he will not swell up with pride and be condemned, as the Devil was. He should be a man who is respected by the people outside the church so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the Devil's trap." ~1 Timothy 3:1‭-‬7 (Good News Translation)‬‬‬‬

Even though the passage primarily refers to spiritual leadership, the principles it elucidates are true for secular leadership as well. It is clear from it that the desire to lead is a good one. To be sure, everyone is a leader in their own right within some defined sphere of influence.

The passage lists the attributes a leader should possess to be effective. Most of the qualities have to do with character and integrity. That goes to show that character and integrity are indispensable to effective leadership.

Character is the summation of all the desirable attributes or qualities of good leadership such as courage, loyalty, honesty, openness, selflessness, trustworthiness, incorruptibility, humility, and so on.
Character encompasses everything good and noble.

It brings balance and stability to the whole equation of life. Character is the mortar that binds all else together in one piece. Alongside integrity, it forms the bedrock of exemplary leadership.

Integrity, on the other hand, is the quality of staying true to and consistent with one's character. It is staying true to and consistent with one's inner convictions no matter what. It is keeping in sync with one's conscience. Integrity is much more than a good reputation. Reputation is, most times, more of a front—an outward projection of what and who an individual wants others to perceive him to be. It can be carefully cultivated and often does not necessarily represent what the individual is on the inside. Not so for integrity. Integrity is an inside job. And it stays true to the inner convictions.

Compared to the other means of earning respect and influence, character and integrity are more enduring. They have a more powerful impact and influence on society. Humanity still feels the impact and influence of some of the ancient and contemporary leaders I mentioned earlier on in this piece because of their character and integrity.

It is very safe to say that the influence and impact of character and integrity are invaluable and timeless.

It is worth adding that none of the other means of earning respect can guarantee effective leadership as a stand-alone. Position without character and integrity spells delusion and disaster. Talents and gifts without character and integrity spell destruction. Education and learning without character and integrity spell danger. Riches and fame without character and integrity spell doom. Only character and integrity standing alone can guarantee effective leadership.

Therefore, character and integrity are the real deal when it comes to providing effective leadership.

However, impactful leadership requires that the leader has some ingredients of all the other means of influence added to his character and integrity.