It is absolutely incumbent upon any leader to actually be the leader.
By this I mean be what it says on the tin. It is not enough to have the title, the salary or the status. Leaders must embody everything required of them.
It is important to understand a key aspect of leadership, particularly in situations where you lead many. It is this: You are the leader of all you lead even though you may be only the leader FOR some you lead.
In other words, not everybody you lead might be happy with or accepting of your leadership. This is what makes true leaders great – they accept this but don’t waste energy by attacking dissenters. Being a leader does not mean you have to subdue those who disagree with you. The simple answer to dissenters is to be their leader every bit as much as you are your supporters’ leader.
A classic example I use much is Dr Ian Paisley. It was well-known that as a constituency MP Dr Paisley was adored by his Roman Catholic Nationalist constituents. Why? Because every one of them knew that when it came to issues such as Protestantism and Unionism, the Reverend was implacably opposed to their own political and religious viewpoints. However, when it came to being their MP, Dr Paisley would and did represent their personal issues and grievances robustly and loyally.
Leaders must be seen to be above pettiness. A leader who kowtows to those who support him/her while being disdainful of others less supportive is rightfully not regarded highly. Often this means being the bigger person and rising above criticism. Sometimes it means trying to win over the recalcitrance of dissenters by maybe trying to show how you have been understood or misrepresented.
What it should never involve, though, is sucking up to naysayers nor compromising to appease them. Being a strong leader who stands his/her ground is always more beneficial in the long run than trying to be popular with everybody. Of course, when dissent becomes open rebellion, strong leadership is required to put this down. This would be an extreme circumstance, however.
Another example is the now infamous (to some) statement of Prince Charles that he would rather be a defender of faith when monarch than Defender of THE Faith. This was looked upon by some Protestant Christians as being disparaging to the Protestant faith. Yet it should and does remind us that Charles will be King to people of all faiths and none, not just to evangelical Christians.
A very interesting lesson comes from a story involving another royal, Charles’s mother Queen Elizabeth II. According to a poll conducted by the Belfast Telegraph, Her Majesty the Queen is more popular among Northern Ireland’s Catholics than Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness.
What does this teach us?
Among several important lessons it teaches us that by just being the leader you can conquer the fiercest of opposition. Over 60 years of being the monarch has seen the Queen overcome the bomb, the bullet and the ballet box hostility of her fiercest critics in Northern Ireland – real rebels fighting a real war – to be more popular than the rebel leader.
Just turning up for work and being at your desk is itself a powerful statement.
Just being the leader is all that is required of those tasked to lead.
And being the leader of everyone under your authority – not just your loyal supporters – can win over even the fiercest of opponents.