The Leadership of Empowerment | Lloyd Williams

In 600BC Lao-tzu declared that: “[a] leader is best when people barely know they exist; not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, then they will say: ‘we did it ourselves.” The title for this first Throwback Leadership Development Blog has been adapted from a book: Learning as a way of leading: lessons from the struggle for social justice by Preskill & Brookfield. Studying this book has transformed my analysis of contemporary leadership modalities and catalyzed the genesis of my own journey towards leadership wholeness.

Throwback Leadership Development, now five years on, has to date been the Everest in my leadership induction. Over the last ten years I have been afforded the opportunity to fulfill multiple roles both as a leader and a follower in some of the most diverse and impoverished contexts, most of which as a facilitator of adult learning. Reflecting on the last five years at TLD has provided me with the opportunity to reflect upon my own leadership philosophy, values, and in the words of Lao-Tzu “my own core beliefs” as I seek to make a new commitment towards an expedition of life long learning.

I do not consider leadership to be a right – leadership is a privilege; it is a privilege to be followed and with this privilege comes great responsibility. It starts with the responsibility to love those who follow us; to care for those we serve; and to offer ourselves (self=ego) as a sacrifice in the same way that Christ surrendered His life for all humanity.

I like to think of my leadership journey as a blank canvas with every experience and opportunity representing a brush stroke contributing towards a work of art. There have been many artists contributing towards this work (my friends, family, mentors, coaches, teachers, God and the knocks of life), but it all started twenty years ago. 1994 was a significant year for South Africa, it was the year it hosted its very first democratic elections; this was also a very significant year for me as it marks the time when I first became present to the reality of leadership around me. While an adolescent I was clearly aware of those who ‘gave instructions’ and those who ‘commanded orders’; I was acutely aware that these individuals, both men and women possessed an amount of power and authority. But what I could not understand was how or why they had acquired it. At the age of twelve witnessing the inauguration of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president who would lead us along a new journey, I realized that leadership was a social construct intended to support the growth of a community and ultimately a nation. A year later this idea became a reality within my own consciousness when I was charged as the head boy of my junior school. Two years later, as a new Christian I was invited to join the leadership team of my church youth group and ever since have fulfilled multiple leadership roles.

My experiences over the last fifteen years have encouraged me to remain open-minded and willing to explore leadership as a spiritual practice, as opposed to a hard science. This, combined with a growing relationship with Christ: discovering his heart and love for me, solidified my belief that people are at the center of God’s agenda. What matters most to me today is that these experiences and opportunities have taught me that the most appropriate leader is the one who can “lead others to lead themselves”; fifteen years of leadership in diverse contexts and the practice of leadership through this lens has guided me towards the belief that leadership is empowerment; empowerment wholeheartedly embraces the value that leadership must always be people (follower) focused and the objective must be outcome (vision) driven.

The true leader in the empowerment adventure will be the one who has earned the respect and trust of those around them, knowing well that those who follow do so by choice and have the will to choose otherwise (leadership as privilege). Leaders must therefore grow in knowledge, develop their skill and possess the attitude to catalyze change while remaining true to their core values and beliefs while remaining sensitive and respectful of the culture they lead within.

By my own admission, my style of leadership and way of ‘being’ has been formulated upon what I believed were the positive characteristics my role models possessed. I desire to be a Developmental Leader – someone who is values based, knowledge driven, responsive, willing to learn, experiment and capable of analyzing my environment. The outcome of my leadership must first result in the transformation of “self” (ego) and then of others, not as a selfish ambition, but to be the change I desire to see. As a Transformational Leader I wish to engage with others in a way that community is built – where followers are developed into leaders who cultivate an environment where no one is afraid to lead or follow. I seek to develop the resilience of others by shaping, altering and challenging their motives and values. I desire to lead on the basis of legitimacy (invitation and privilege) not as a ‘right’, so that those I lead today may be empowered to accomplish far greater than what which I have demonstrated.

In the coming weeks and months I hope to be a co-learner with you in this journey, unpacking my Philosophy of Leadership; drafting a Leadership Manifesto; and developing an Open-ended Conclusion (that others can build on). Thanks for taking the time to read this blog – feel free to use the content and share the ideas we share!

           “Never get caught up in the great things of leadership if it takes you away from the God-things of leadership.” ~ Pastor Chris Brown

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