“I am just a sheep herald.”
Those were the first words Moses said when God asked him to save the Israelites from Pharoah. “I am not up to the task,” Moses said. Even when God assured him he would not be alone and that God is by his side, Moses continued;
“What if they don’t believe me?”
“Why should Pharoah listen to me?”
“I can’t do this.”
We all know how Moses’ story ended. Many leaders throughout history have said things like this to the people around them – and themselves – right until they became the leaders they were born to be.
Three years ago, I took part in a communication workshop, led by a coach named David. During the workshop, we were divided into small groups, and each group chose its group leader. I was one of the few who were chosen by their groups, and frankly, I did not feel like I was up to the task. Once a week, all the group leaders had a conference call with David to give an update on our groups’ status and receive support and advice from other group leaders.
One night I decided to stay in the call after everyone has left until it was just David and me. “Hey David,” I said, “Do you think you can choose someone else to lead my group? I don’t think I’m the right person for this job. I don’t feel like a Leader.”
David didn’t say anything for a few moments. I could hear him taking a deep breath before he decided to speak… “How is being a Leader suppose to feel like?”
Silence. I had no idea how to answer that question; “I don’t know.”
“Then how do you know you’re not a leader?”
“I don’t know. I just feel like it’s not me. I’m not a leader.” It amazes me that even after serving three years in the Israeli Defence Forces, even after serving as a commander and commanding over 200+ soldiers during my service, I still doubted myself. Fortunately, David knew exactly what to say to me, even if it did catch me off guard;
“Do you know the story of Jonah?”
“You mean the one with the whale?” I asked.
“That’s right,” David said, “God asked Jonah to warn the people of an evil city that if they would not stop their evil ways the city would be destroyed. Did he do that?”
“Well, not at first. Jonah tried to run away from his mission. He didn’t think people would listen to him.” I was utterly oblivious to where David was going with this, but I decided to stay for the ride.
“That’s right,” David continued, “And when a storm started, Jonah knew it was because he angered God. He took responsibility for his mistake and the people of the ship threw him overboard, where a whale swallowed him. After three days, Jonah came out of the whale alive and well, and continued to do his mission.”
I was trying to figure out what was David talking about.
Then he asked, “Why do you think he did that?”
“Because God told him to.”
“It was the catalyst but not the reason. The real reason was he was a leader. That was his true calling and that is why God chose him for this mission. So when do you think Jonah became a leader?”
David knew to ask the right questions at the right moment.
“When he chose to,” I said.
“Do you see my point?” David asked. I did see it. People have this weird natural urge to doubt themselves, which can be a good thing sometimes. However, it can stop us from doing the right thing; something we’re meant to do.
So after a few courses, two years in college, and some trips to Europe, I got to a point where I ran my own workshops and running my own business. During these workshops, and even afterward, I kept surprising myself and always reaching heights. After a while, I decided it was time for me to finally be a counselor in a summer camp and lead young campers (and also make sure they’re having a lot of fun!).
Leadership is hard, and sometimes people don’t want to take all that responsibility upon themselves, which is perfectly ok. To make sure I’m always on the right path, I’ve implemented three simple guidelines:
1. Be the last to speak
Many people like to assume control of the room to share their own opinion. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to assume control of the room to make sure it is spread equally across the room.
2. Be the first to share
Originally ‘Be the first to Act’, this guideline was born out of the notion that we develop relationships by sharing experience, stories, and feelings. But in reality, it can be hard (or at least uncomfortable) to share something with another person. When people share with us, it becomes easier for us to share something back because they made the first move.
3. Be Kind
It’s hard to be mean or to be angry at someone who is kind to you. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a technique or manipulation. It’s just a basic understanding that some people are this way because they are missing some kindness in their lives. Most of the time, it helps make someone’s day a little brighter. Remember: There’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Kindness, by its nature, is Contagious.
Choosing to be someone who empowers others can sometimes be challenging, and that is why I’ve adopted these guidelines. It’s easy to stray from the right track. So easy, that during my time in the army, we had this saying about commanders:
This means, ‘Just because you’re in a position of power, does not necessarily mean people will follow you’ or that you’re ready to lead.
So how do we know when we’re ready to lead?
When we choose to.