Every leader has a number of constituencies to please. Stop looking after one — customers, stakeholders, donors, board and staff — another can take you out. We worry about things that matter and countless things that don’t. I’ve tried to make peace with the fact that I’m a worrier. I try to concentrate my worry time on something that can make a real difference, perhaps the thing that matters most in the end: taking care of, supporting and loving the staff.
When I was a kid, I used to wait for the bus at my neighbor’s house. His dad was a fireman and always had this cool, thick mustache. He’d come down to the end of the driveway and make conversation with us kids and I was always jazzed to get to talk to a real fireman. In junior high, I had a paper route and I’d catch him in the driveway having a cigar reading his paper when I came to collect. He’d always shift his gaze my way, smile, and ask me the friendliest questions. I just loved the man.
Years later in my 20s, I saw a report on the local news that he’d been released from his position as chief of a suburban fire department by the township trustees for political reasons. The story went on to share that the members of the department staff were outraged by the decision, that they loved him, and that they’d threatened to walk off the job were he not reinstated.
I swelled with pride. Even then, a decade before being in a position of leadership myself, it was crystal clear which was the right side of the equation to be on for a leader in those circumstances. There is just something about a leader beloved by their people that tells the public all they need to know about the true character of the person in question. Even when they legitimately fail in other areas of leadership, their characters are widely defined by the opinions of the people they lead.
Think of the great leaders in history, the ones who are most respected, renowned and beloved. The one thing they have most in common is a bond of love and sacrifice, a covenant of fidelity and concern for their people. A leader who has the love of their people has a claim to something priceless. However the chips fall, they can emerge with their reputation intact.
Leaders cannot avoid having to make lesser-of-two-evil decisions. Often, those decisions place them in a position to disappoint, even anger members of the staff. But parents make difficult decisions that disappoint and anger their kids all the time, yet we know love can still shine through. Having to carry the weight of decision making is difficult work. But never lose faith that good heartedness on the behalf of a leader can shine through. Keep fighting for, supporting, and loving your people. If something takes you out, go out a leader of the people, like my neighbor. ●
Daniel Flowers is President and CEO of Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank