Leaders enjoy many benefits. People seen as leaders get promoted and opportunities come their way. Parents whose children respect them as leaders have more functional families. But how do you begin the process of getting others to see you as a leader?
We have all seen leadership in action. Perhaps one participant at a meeting emerges as the clear leader of the group. Or people listen more attentively to one person than to another. Groups coalesce around the one individual who is regarded as more authoritative than anyone else.
I’m sure you’ve seen parents who enjoy such excellent rapport with their children that obedience is almost automatic. It is clear that the children view the parents as leaders. Authentic leadership skills that are effective in a work environment are also effective in a family or social environment. We just need to know what these skills are.
The first and most important skill is to learn to use words sparingly. Babbling is a sure way to jettison leadership credibility. A crucial part of using words sparingly is to do more listening than talking. A great way to achieve this is by doing more asking than telling. Imagine a parent concerned about his or her teenager’s friends. If the parent starts shouting or accusing, the child switches off. However, if instead the parent gently and firmly asks questions, exhibiting real interest and concern, information will eventually flow.
Negotiations follow similar rules. Many of our interactions with others are really negotiations. Some are formally declared while others are negotiations masquerading as discussions or conversations. The most common mistake is to firmly articulate your position at the beginning. People sometimes do this because they fear being seen as weak or being maneuvered into yielding ground. Don’t for a moment think the other side is even listening to your opening position; they’re busy planning their own opening lines.
Instead, it is far more effective to draw as many words as possible from the other side by means of asking questions. “Won’t you start by sharing with me some of your initial thoughts? I’d be interested to hear how you see this.”
This permanent principle of not talking unnecessarily is repeatedly visible in ancient Jewish wisdom. We certainly think of Samson as more of a doer than a talker, right?
And Samson and his father and mother went down to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah, when a lion roared towards him. And the Lord’s spirit rested upon him, and he tore it as one would tear a goat, though he had nothing in his hand. He did not tell his father and mother what he had done.
The first question to consider is why the lion roared only towards Samson (him)? Why does the verse not tell us that the lion roared towards them? Even if that was so, all three of them went on this excursion together. Why would he need to tell his parents about something they saw?
The answer to the first question lies in the words telling us that they came to the vineyards of Timnah. Remember Samson’s prenatal history. The angel gave instructions regarding his mother and ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that she followed these rules for the rest of her life:
From all that comes out of the grapevine she shall not eat,
and wine or strong drink she may not drink…
Arriving at the Vineyards of Timnah, Samson’s mother elected to keep distant from the grapes and so she chose to circle around the vineyards with her husband. Meeting up again with Samson on the other side of the vineyards, he keeps quiet about what occurred and they continued on their mission to Timnah.
There, a negotiation of sorts was about to occur. A foreigner, Samson, was marrying one of the Philistine women. Thirty men came in force to intimidate Samson. He proceeds to ask them a question in the form of a riddle. As the story unfolds, only he and his wife know the answer, so when the men solve the riddle, it is clear to all that his wife betrayed him and that her people did not respect the marital bond.
…Had you not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle.
By not telling his parents, Samson was able to control the situation, setting up his attack on the Philistines.
There is no quicker or more effective way to show leadership than to demonstrate self-discipline. The poet John Milton wrote a biography of Oliver Cromwell in which he explained that the latter’s military skills and leadership were grounded in self-discipline. “He was a soldier well versed in self-knowledge and whatever enemy lay within—vain hopes, fears, desires—he had either previously destroyed within himself or had long since reduced to subjection.”
This is why self-discipline is regularly voted the most important measure of leadership. Speaking in a measured and thoughtful way is the first proof of self-discipline we encounter in those we meet.