Heavy is the head that bears the crown of leadership.
A story of Janeway
One of my favourite personal leaders who I deeply admire is the character of captain Kathryn Janeway (from the Star Trek Voyager series) — this is a character of immense personal strength and is truly an epitome of powerful female leadership.
In the first episode of Star Trek Voyager, Janeway is faced with an incredibly difficult decision (as leaders often are). Her and her crew have been stranded far from their home, and the technology that can send them back is right there in front of them. But there’s a caveat. If they use this technology to send themselves home now (some 150 crew members on the starship) — they will put an innocent population at risk. The Kazon, an aggressive species native to that area, would use that technology to attack an innocent species called the Ocampa who reside nearby.
Leaders are frequently faced with choices that affect a much bigger picture than their own lives. In this case, stranding 150 people so far from home that it will take them over 70 years to travel home, or endanger an innocent species.
Janeway chooses to destroy the technology and strand her crew. Upon the destruction of the technology she receives a transmission from a Kazon ship. Their captain tersely says:
Right or Wrong?
Of course the correctness of this choice could be debated all day. Perhaps it was “right” to let the Ocampa people perish and take care of her own crew (her own family) as the priority. Similarly the choices we as leaders make could be right or wrong, they could have been made with the proper forethought or not. They could be morally correct, or not. — regardless, the point remains the same, we make important choices that affect the whole, and these choices, whether right or wrong, sooner or later will incur the unhappiness of those around us.
People will be unhappy
If you are a leader of any relative importance, someone will be unhappy with your decisions. You cannot satisfy everyone all the time, nor should that be your primary focus. When I observe the political situations in various countries, it almost appears as if half of the people are unhappy at any given point in time. This is the reality of leadership. So who do you follow? Who do you focus on satisfying? Which people are most important to be “buddies” with and make happy?
No one. No one but your principles. The truest leaders, the most powerful specimens of rulership and authority are guided not by the popular opinion of people, but by adherence to correct principles. Integrity, honesty, love, greatness, high moral standards, the list goes on. This is what makes a leader authentic, leaders who are guided by popular opinion or who sway every which way with the popular opinions of people are specious. True leaders are guided by the vision of their principles, thus they are able to project that vision to the people who follow them.
So although it is people who give leaders power, it is principles that give them nobility, and leaders and followers tend to gravitate towards those of their own kind (those who are guided by the same principles and core values)
Just like a boat that gets shaken and disoriented throughout its journey through rough waters, we as leaders can also get shaken up or disturbed by the things that we observe or the conversations that occur. We are not perfect. We, like batteries, need time to recharge. It is in those times that we need to look to our principles and core values as guiding stars and re-align ourselves to the values contained in them. If we’ve been inconsistent with them, we can improve. The game is never completely over. As we re-align ourselves to our core values, perhaps initially people will still be suspicious of us or think we are being pretentious, but integrity is restored with time. When we consistently live those principles, the power and vision of them will re-enter our lives and gradually reset us in the right direction. Don’t expect to be back on the path instantly, be patient with yourself and persevere.