Over the years, we have seen the display of various leadership styles, and have given them names ranging from charismatic to authoritarian. But what exactly is true leadership?

As with most things, leadership is a divisive topic. One that has divided people, and continuing to do so whether at home, work, and constitutionally.  For instance, our decisions on whom to marry, submit to at work and constitutionally are largely based on our understanding of leadership, and in some cases, how the society would react to them.


Thus, what does leadership stand for? The word ‘leadership’ contains two standalone words, ‘leader’ and ‘ship’.  A ‘leader’ is a person in control of a ‘ship’. A ‘ship’ is a large boat for making a journey across the sea. This means that leadership entails controlling a large boat on sea to bring it to safety.  We can therefore use an example of a ‘Captain or Shipmaster’ in this context to help us understand true leadership.

Let’s look at the role of the sea captain.  The sea captain is like your everyday CEO, President or Prime Minister or anyone regarded as a Leader. The Captain doesn’t drive the ship, instead, they oversee everything onboard including the people, systems and processes. And when the ship is docking, the Captain takes control of the ship, placing his hands on the control to bring into the dock.  The Captain therefore not only controls the ‘ship’ but also brings the ‘ship’ to safety.

Sometimes, the Captain delegates tasks to the staff Captain or another Senior Officer in order to develop them (of course with close supervision); preparing them for the future.   Does true leadership therefore involves developing other people so they can grow into the same confidence and aspiration? And by so doing, are we developing true leaders?

Again, the Captain must carry the other crew members along before, in the middle and after the journey to ensure rules are understood and followed adequately. Failure to do so could be devastating. Is this what we see in our politics today?  Are we seeing a situation where the leaders are no longer carrying people along, consequently, leading to disaster? Today, the opinions of the leaders are because of their own decisions, and do not reflect the opinions of the people.

Because the Sea Captain must take care of the different operational matters and navigation, they work closely with these various areas of expertise to gain some understanding of their work and continue to learn and keep abreast of new developments. Without which, it will be difficult for the Sea Captain to bond with the crew and keep them motivated. The Sea Captain knows already that they have talented and skilled team who are integral to the success of their leadership; as such, the need to keep them motivated and show they can relate to their needs, concerns and worries.

Next, the display of emotions in leadership, should this be regarded as weakness?  Absolutely not! Isn’t this why most of our leaders today are hard hearted? We made them so; we did so by saying they’re not allowed to display emotions, when in fact, their display of emotions show greater strength and understanding of people’s needs.  I doubt a Sea Captain will hide from displaying emotions in a sinking ship, knowing that they have the responsibility for the crews and the people on the ship.  The fact that they can be helpless at times isn’t a show of weakness, but that they’re human.  And like every other human, need help and support to take the next step. This also applies to when the ship docks.  An overwhelming emotion of relief.  Who wouldn’t? And who wants hard-hearted leaders?

This takes me nicely to another leadership quality displayed by the Sea Captain, the heart to serve. In case you didn’t know, the Sea Captain must be the last person to leave a ship in difficulties. Morally, they have the responsibility for everyone on the ship; and legally, to ensure their safety comes first. Therefore, the Sea Captain remains until the last person’s left.  In this humane sense, the charm of their leadership continues.  Unfortunately, the preferred leadership style today comes with self sacrificial lambs. The leader is the first to be saved, and thereafter, the people beneath them.

Hence, true leadership isn’t only about charisma, authority etc.  it’s about serving the people, ensuring their safety, welfare, and creating opportunities for them to reach their full potential.

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