You would like Ola a lot. Most people do. He was the kind of guy who listened when you talked, who smiled often, and who said things that made the people around him smile. He was intelligent, but in a way that made others feel comfortable. It’s the way he expressed himself in simple terms that you can understand – almost like he’s articulating the thoughts you already had in your head, but hadn’t yet found the right words to say aloud.
It doesn’t matter who you are either. Ola always had a way of relating to you. Because, in a way, he’d been there with you all along. He could think like you, so he understood you.
So many of us have limitations in our perceptions. We understand the soldiers but not the politics governing the war. We understand the people who go to the movies but not the ones who attend auto-races. But somehow Ola understood all of us. It’s his gift. If he hadn’t actually been to the auto-race you’re talking about, he’d be honest about it – but he’d make you feel as if he was right there with you. And once you returned home after spending a good time with Ola, you’d catch yourself smiling and thinking that there needed to be more people like him in the world. Because if there were, there would be far less to worry about.
Ola passed away today. I don’t really want to discuss the details, because honestly they aren’t relevant. It could have been a car accident. It could have been old age. We are often far too concerned with how people died, rather than how they lived. And I want you to know how he lived. He told stories – lots of stories that contained subtle insights and wisdom about our lives and the world around us. And today, I want to share with you the last story he told me before he died:
His last story
One Sunday morning when I was a little boy my father surprised me and took me to the fishing docks. But instead of fishing, as all the other little boys and girls were doing with their fathers, we sat down on the end of one of the docks and watched all the other children fishing. For hours, we sat there and watched until we left without ever casting a single fishing line into the water.
I was simultaneously sad and angry. On the drive home I told my father that I’d never forgive him for being so cruel to me. He looked at me, smiled and said, “I love you, Ola.” When I didn’t respond, he asked, “Did you notice how happy all the other little boys and girls were? Did you see their smiles? Could you feel the happiness in their hearts?” After a moment of silence I quickly snapped, “I don’t really care! I just want to go fishing like everyone else!” My father sighed and kept driving.
We went back to the fishing docks dozens of Sunday mornings throughout my childhood. And each time we saw hundreds of other little boys and girls jumping and laughing and celebrating as they reeled in fishing. But we still never cast a single fishing line into the water. We just sat there on the end of that same dock and watched. And my father never explained why. But he didn’t need to. Because years later, as I entered adulthood, I suddenly realised that it was those mornings we spent sitting on that dock that taught me how to be patient and to love. 3
Character is not the only component of leadership. There are also: approaches to thinking (Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells us that “Nothing is good or bad as thinking makes it so.”), learned skills in concentration, fundamental beliefs, personal values and specific actions that detract from or add to contentment and well-being. But character is still the essential component.
Why character matters
Who we are makes a difference. The way we treat others matters. The decency or indecency that fills our hearts and minds matters. Our values as expressions of what we believe and how we live our lives really does make a difference to our leadership. The traits we’ve developed over time are of no little consequence to how we feel about who we are. Happiness increases our ability to demonstrate extra ordinary leadership.
When we look in the mirror, it’s often our character (or lack thereof) that speaks the loudest. But not all character traits are created equal, at least, not insofar as leadership is concerned. The following, then, are those traits I’m convinced will have the greatest impact on your leadership and indeed your happiness:
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.– Mark Twain
Fear is the great thief of leadership and happiness according to the works of Marc and Angel. It is parent to surrender. It sneaks in closed doors and robs us of resolve and the commitment and ability to endure to the end.
Courage, on the other hand, is fear’s great nemesis. It challenges fear, pushes it back, and keeps it in check by taking steps toward its objection. Courage thereby shatters the shackles of fear, sending it into the insignificant margins of obscurity.
Courage allows us to challenge our comfort zones, approach people and situations, embrace life and accept the pain that’s inevitable in all of life’s changes and challenges. Without courage, leadership is a little more than an illusion, a temporary mirage, a puff of smoke that dissipates into thin air at its first challenge.
Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.
How happy are impatient people? This is a rhetorical question, of course. The answer is obviously “not very.” At least not for very long. Impatience is another major bully to happiness and indeed to extraordinary leadership. It pushes happiness out of the neighbourhood almost as soon as it shows up. Let life happen, at least a little. You’ll find it that much more beautiful and happy when you do.
But learning to accept and allow, to go with the flow and relax a bit is critical to living a happy life and demonstrating extra ordinary leadership. Impatience is often the irritation we feel at the loss of control. But life bubbles and gurgles in ever-changing streams and flows of unpredictable activity. It simply is not 100 per cent controllable. And the more we try to control and manipulate the outcome of life and the events that boil up around us with any kind of precision, the more frustrated we’ll be at the effort.
So breathe. Relax. Take it in. Be patient. Learn to accept the uncertainties of life.
Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. – D. Bonhoeffer
To be grateful is to notice the good amidst the bad, the colour against the backdrop of grey, the lovely even if it’s surrounded by the ugly. It’s to count your blessings and recognise how beautiful life is even when life isn’t quite going as planned.
Learning to be grateful requires the desire to see what’s sometimes hard to locate for those who are not accustomed to seeing it. It requires retraining your mind to think about the silver linings in life. But for gratitude to affect your leadership and happiness in the deepest way, it must permeate your soul, encompassing attitude and thought, and becoming the general way you perceive life.
Gratitude doesn’t ignore the difficulty of challenges. But it focuses on benefits and opportunities of challenges. The Chinese characters for the word “crisis” literally mean “danger” and “opportunity”. All challenges and crises bring along with them greater opportunities.
When we’re grateful, our problems don’t disappear, they simply occupy less space in our hearts, minds and lives. The reason is that grateful people are focused on that for which they are grateful. By definition, that means the difficult, disappointing and painful commands less of our attention.
As a matter of fact, I don’t believe there is a single more important character trait to your extra ordinary leadership and happiness than developing the persistent, even automatic grateful response to life.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.( Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.-Martin Luther King Jr
Love conquers all, as they say. And while perhaps not always technically true (I don’t think any person’s love of murder would make this act of violence any less evil, for instance), love certainly goes a long way to being nearly true.
To recognise the centrality of love to living a happy life and showing extraordinary leadership, just imagine a life lived without it. Imagine a hateful, loveless life of happiness and extraordinary leadership (I know. That’s the point. It’s not possible).
The more love that beats in your heart, the happier and more buoyant your heart will be and the more you can demonstrate extraordinary leadership. The more you love life, the more life will love you back. The more your followers will be inspired by your extraordinary leadership.
Love overlooks weakness and closes its eyes to idiosyncrasies. It accepts, seeks, and empowers what’s best in others. This is the road to travel.
To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness. – Robert Muller
There’s nothing much more conducive to happiness and indeed extraordinary leadership than the ability to forgive quickly, spontaneously and freely. People who hold on to pain, who nurse their wounds, who call out the troops to seek vengeance for the wrongs done to them, may win battles here and there. But the war against unhappiness will largely be lost before it’s even started. An unhappy person cannot provide extraordinary leadership.
Refusal to forgive with exaggerated and lingering resentments lead to a self-imposed imprisonment that inhibits leadership. It’s the very bars that keep others imprisoned in our hearts that keeps happiness far away, at a distance, peering in at best. It’s time we free ourselves by letting old pain dissipate into the darkness, so new opportunities can take us to greater heights of joy.
So, have you forgiven your parents for their weaknesses as parents? Have you forgiven the playground bully or abusive ex-spouse, or your neglectful children( or inconsiderate neighbour or insensitive leader?
If you haven’t, you’re picking at the open wounds that can only irritate, infect and fester. Such open wounds often turn cancerous, metastasising, entering the bloodstream of other relationships, infecting them with its mortal disease as well. Instead, open your heart to forgiveness. Then your heart will finally be open enough to catch its share of happiness as well and your journey to extra ordinary leadership will be smooth.