Most people have an incomplete understanding of leadership. It’s true that at times your job as a leader is to make everything okay for other people. This involves doing things that people expect, want and like. Sometimes, however, it’s not. These are moments when your work as a leader is to make others uncomfortable by bringing their attention to an uneasy truth, challenging the status quo, speaking up and speaking out. This means you may be the cause of other people’s discomfort – which can make leadership feel like it’s a dangerous business. People may dislike you, even if for only a brief while, for making them uncomfortable. This is the reason many people fail to exercise courageous and challenging leadership.
According to some sources, the word ‘leader’ appears to originate from the ancient Indo-European word ‘leit’. The leit was the name given to the bearer of the flag or banner of kings and queens of old. They would march at the front of the army as they went into battle, rallying and leading the troops. Being chosen to be a leit was a great honour, which we can see even to this day when the flag-bearers of each nation march proudly into a stadium during the Olympic opening ceremony. In the days of old, being the leit or the leader was also a dangerous position, because the other army would want to quickly take you out of action.
Unfortunately, we have so sanitised leadership today that many people have forgotten that to lead well means to take risks and do what can sometimes feel dangerous. It takes courage and a purpose that’s meaningful and compelling to encourage us to move away from safety and into leadership. Whether it’s standing up and speaking out for yourself, or the people or causes you care about, it’s incredibly important and necessary work.
So remember. If the work of leadership doesn't sometimes feel risky to you, it's possible that you’re not exercising it fully.