Leadership is not my ‘thing’

Leadership is not my bag. I do not like the term, and I do not really like what it represents. And so I don’t understand why it is on everyone’s agenda. I am a lone wolf. A pioneer. I don’t consider myself a leader and I don’t want to be one. And anyway, it calls up negative associations with my participation in the reality TV show Survivor, where the production appointed me leader of a group, after which the participants opposed me, instead of the decision …

So when a few weeks ago I was given the book ‘Leadership on the line’, it didn’t exactly make my heart race. But it was a gift by an organization I respect a lot, following my ‘dismissal from the Netherlands’. In a spirit of politeness I leafed through some of it in a moment of boredom.

And then it happened. I suddenly realized I do or should feel something with respect to leadership. Writing this gives me goose bumps as the term still makes me uneasy. This sentence especially touched me: ‘The hope of leadership lies in the capacity to deliver disturbing news and raise difficult questions in a way that people can absorb, prodding them to take up the message rather than ignore it or kill the messenger.

Unlike other management books, this book does not focus on how to inspire people; we kind of know that by now. In stead it explains why pioneering also entails negativity and opposition (‘Leadership becomes dangerous when it must confront people with change and thus with loss’) and especially how to survive that situation.


Photo: Jeroen van Amelsfoort

Coincidentally I recently wrote down the process we all face at some stage; I recognize the phases strive, struggle & shine. You want to achieve something really important (strive); it’s not easy but if you persevere (struggle), you will at a certain point reach a position in which you can inspire others (shine). That’s then automatically followed by a new cycle.

In recent years I have experienced a few of these cycles. But not particularly willingly. To date I have always thought that the resistance and negativity were annoying ‘by-products’ of doing something good; reasons why I didn’t really want to get involved anymore.

I now understand that if you want to change things, you sometimes have to deliver unpopular messages. And you have to formulate them as well as you possibly can.

Even then people will try to resist change. And project it on the messenger. Sounds familiar?!?

If you decide to take a lead in something, you have to know damn well why you are doing it, be strong and confident, extremely creative and flexible, not give up, resist loneliness and be able to communicate effectively.

It’s as if all my experiences/troubles in the charity world, during Survivor, with my ‘Mr. Wrong’, in the media and the recent troubles with being ‘dismissed from my country’ have prepared me for something. …

With all those experiences and skills in my ‘backpack’, I have helped others to initiate their projects. But I am not unique in this. I suddenly realize there are but a few who can help other pioneers with the WHOLE process that they are experiencing, and especially the last part of the ‘struggle’, towards ‘shine’. This part of the process happens at lonely ‘heights’ (sometimes it feels more like a low) and there are no pre-cut paths to follow. No examples and no points of reference.

strive struggle shine engels

When I was writing this blog at the end of 2014 all sorts of puzzle pieces came together. And I wasn’t even aware that I had been involved in a puzzle! I still don’t have the big picture, but it’s clear that something beautiful is starting to appear. If anyone already knows or can envision and see my new insight, please let me know…

(This story was published in Dec 2014 on mijnmoment.com.)