OPINION: Are leaders born or made?

Saturday 5 June 2021 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion


OPINION: Are leaders born or made?
The bust of Sir Albert Henry, outside Cook Islands Christian Church in Avarua. 20022838

Leaders in 2021 who connect, who are compassionate and are teachable and led, are leaders who have the tools and vision to voyage us through the storms, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

In a world like ours where traditional leaders are chosen not because of their skills or ability to lead, but simply on bloodlines and akapapa’anga, I guess it could be easy for us to use that same world view for every other type of leader in our world, be they leaders of our families, churches or government.

And why, I ask, are they leaders because of their title, or should we judge them as leaders by their ability to lead and to make decisions that benefit the many?

One needs only look to Samoa to see where power and leadership are at odds, and where the potential succession of a new leader has been greatly impacted by the incumbent.

That resistance for change is having an impact on everything from the judiciary, the courts, the legislature – and the voter. Because when we lead, our decisions will have an impact on all around us, for good or for bad.

And if we believe that leaders are not born, they are made, what are some of these qualities we should look for if leadership is the path before us, and that we should apply to those that lead around us?

These five questions may add some reflection and guidance on what we should be looking for in a leader, and why.

Does character outweigh talent? When it comes to leadership, does your talent outweigh your character? Is who you are when no one is looking more important and the decisions you make when no one is looking more important than those made in public? King David is such a good example of a leader who learned his trade not on the palace steps or courtyards, but in the fields, away from the crowds and where the mundane was the gold because their leadership potential was shaped and his character that would guide the season of his life when he was king.

Is the gift in the grind? Do we miss the real learnings in the mundane, the tired job in front of us, and the laborious tasks we avoid, especially when the limelight is shining in another room or for another person? Does life or work experience, the very act of going through challenging experiences in your personal life or at work, have a transforming effect on your potential leadership ability? Do you learn from the decisions you make, and then make better ones?  And do the leaders you watch have an impact on you because service for us as Pasifika is clearly defined as the pathway to true leadership?

Do we need a lifetime of learning? To grow as a leader, should we develop the discipline of transforming “ah-ha” moments into a commitment to practice what we have learned, and why we should not step away from tough leadership opportunities, and failures, when instead we should embrace them and learn from them?

Do I know my why? Will your “why” determine your kind of leadership, the legacy you leave behind, and the future you build as you go? It’s often said, When the going gets tough … it’s the tough that get going, when actually it’s not the tough, it’s those that know their why that get going. Because toughness can only take us so far while a deep sense of will sail us through waters much deeper.

Does a leader need a leader? All leaders who have thrived and flourished throughout history have seemed to have understood deeply that they too are accountable and have placed themselves in submission, be it to God, their constituency, country, conscience, or all three. Leaders, great leaders that we so desperately need today, have known what it is also to be led, and by that remain in a place of humility. And from humility flowed empathy, and from empathy, compassion, and from compassion, deep and meaningful connection.

Leaders in 2021 who connect, who are compassionate and are teachable and led, are leaders who have the tools and vision to voyage us through the storms.

And they are the heart to ensure no one is left behind, and push our vaka through the swells and storms ahead.

In our leaders, we should expect no less.


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