One of the Great Lies of Leadership

(This is a post I wrote for

“Leadership” has been a trendy genre for the last 20 years or so.  Now, while I enjoy reading on the topic, I have to admit most of the material out there on leadership isn’t anything new.  Principles of leadership (at least good principles of leadership) are pretty timeless.  Therefore, this post is designed to show one of those timeless keys of good leadership–and perhaps more importantly–the human tendency to avoid that very principle!  I start with a story from the Old Testament.  The background is this.  Rehoboam has just come back to take the throne, and he meets up with the people:

“The whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away.” (1 Kings 1:3-5, NIV)

Faced with a tough decision, Rehoboam heads in the right direction:

“Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked. They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” (1 Kings 1:6-7, NIV)

But, before the going gets good, he changes course:

“But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?” The young men who had grown up with him replied, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’” (1 Kings 1:8-11, NIV)

The end result?  Not quite what Rehoboam hoped for I am sure.  There is division, rebellion, and war.  Far from putting the people in their place like he had hoped.  There a lot of lessons one could take from this passage (like the fact that strong-armed tactics never result in effective long-term leadership, or the reality that pride will always stand in the way of good leading) but I chose to focus on the main principle:  Good leaders are never alone.  The biggest lie of leadership is this: We tend to think of leaders as these lone wolf, superhero types.  Like Superman sitting in his fortress of solitude, single-handedly carrying the weight of crime fighting all on his own.  We idolize great leaders and in so doing, make them more than men (or women).  We tend to think they, in and of themselves, lead us on to a brighter tomorrow.  The real reality of leadership looks more like this:  You can never lead further than the people you have around you.  The people and influences you have around you is the secret to your longevity and effectiveness as a leader.  The best leaders are surrounded by good people who encourage, re-inforce, and extend their leadership.  If you want to be a good leader, begin to find people and influences to surround you in this manner. 

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