Dear Young Leader,
I was once where you are now. I didn’t have a map, a manual or a mentor. It was just me, wondering what in the world I was going to do.
I was young. Naive. Idealistic. I thought the world would bend to my will. How foolish I was. I made mistakes. Mistakes that cost me. Mistakes that cost those under my care. Myself, I could answer to. How was I going to account for those under my care? The weight was testing, trying and treacherous. The journey–it wasn’t easy. I knew it would be hard–but who knew it would be this hard?
I see you and I see me. A brilliant idea. A marvellous vision that no one but you sees. One day, someone will see it too… And then a second person… And before you know it–there will be a fourth, fifth and sixth… And your tribe will grow. They will applaud your successes and jeer at your failures. If you’re lucky, you will find a handful of people who will stick by you through thick and thin. Choose your spouse carefully–it will make you or break you.
Oh, the journey–it never ends. Not till you’re six feet under or your ashes are blowing in the wind.
Don’t be swayed by the opinions of your fans or your foes. People are fickle beings. They can love you one day and hang you on the cross the next day. The reverse can also be true. Don’t seek the popular vote. Pleasing people is easy–all you have to do is give them what they think they want. Leading people is hard–it requires shining a light and showing them the way.
Some leaders force people into following them. Others use a gentle hand. You will have to learn to use both throughout the course of your journey. Be kind to those who have earned it and firm with those who haven’t. You’re a leader, not a doormat. Walk to the beat of your own drum and those who sing the same song will hear your call. Some may even become lifelong companions.
I know you feel lonely, but there are others–others like you out there. Kindred souls who know exactly what you’re going through. One word of caution–do not believe what their ghostwriters write in their official memoirs. That is not the way to know who a person is. Hear them speak. Hear the things they say. Closely observe all the things they don’t.
In the matters on which they are silent, you will hear their true voice and all that they dare not utter in public. A leader’s life is a truly private affair that few are privy to.
I want to tell you something I’ve learned. And believe me, I’ve learned many things in the course of my leadership journey. You can read the cleverest books in the world to prepare you–but until you embark on the journey; until you are tested by trial by fire–you will not discover your true worth.
And while we’re at worth–don’t allow others to dismiss the value you bring to the table by comparing yourself to others who are ‘bigger’ than you. Even if you are the CEO of the biggest company in the world, there are people who will think you are small. People who will treat you like dirt even though you are worth your weight in gold.
Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in needless chatter. It will drown out your inner voice. Don’t think too much. Give that tired head of yours a rest. You can’t please everyone. Don’t even try. Their misdemeanours are not for you to take on as your own. Their needless burdens are not for you to carry. Your cross is already hard enough to bear. And if it isn’t, it will soon be.
When in doubt, close your eyes and follow your heart. It already knows what to do.
The Lord chose you to lead. So close your eyes and lead. You will find your way.
Your Younger Self