Effective leadership has a shelf life

A general definition of a leader is someone who leads a group of people. We are all called to be leaders at some point in our lives

Feb 18, 2023


A general definition of a leader is someone who leads a group of people. We are all called to be leaders at some point in our lives. And we all want to become great leaders. So, what are the hallmarks of a great leader? According to American psychologist, Daniel Goleman, what distinguishes great leaders from good ones is emotional intelligence (EI). There are five skills in EI that enables the best leaders to maximise their own and their followers’ performance. The five skills are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

A leader with self-awareness knows his emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and goals. Along with having selfawareness, a great leader would also know that effective leadership has a shelf life.

Effective leadership
Generally, most newly appointed leaders will begin their leadership brimming with ideas, raring to make impactful changes, and sometimes having to ‘clean up’ messy situations created by their predecessors. However, after a couple of years into the role, and faced with numerous challenges and the stress that comes along with it, the spark of leadership begins to dim. The leader soon begins to lose focus and becomes demotivated. He becomes ineffective.

With the challenges that leadership brings, it is not a wonder that many leaders throw in the towel after serving for between five to ten years. Let us look at a political and a corporate leader who decided to bow out because they knew that the time was right.

Resigning when the time is right Last month, Jacinta Adern decided to quit as Prime Minister of New Zealand after just five years in the role. She said, “I am not leaving because it was hard. Had that been the case, I probably would have departed two months into the job! I am leaving because with such a privileged role, comes responsibility. The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also when you are not. I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice.”

In the corporate world, Abdul Farid Alias decided not to renew his contract as Group President and Chief Executive Officer of Maybank after holding the post for a period of eight years from August 2013 till April 2022. The Maybank Group is Malaysia’s largest financial services group and the leading banking group in South East Asia. When Farid was asked the reason for his leaving, he said, “It’s going to be nine years, and I don’t think a CEO should overstay.”

Political and corporate leaders are not the only ones who have resigned graciously. The Church too has had her fair share of resignations, some of whom have taught us a lesson or two in humility. Here are examples of three resignations in recent years.

Bowing out in humility
Towards the end of last year, two bishops in Europe announced their resignation before the mandatory retirement age of 75 for priests and bishops stipulated in Canon Law. In December, 66-year-old Bishop Robert Byrne of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle in the United Kingdom said that the office is “too great a burden.” And in October, 59-year-old Bishop Valerio Lazzeri of the Diocese of Lugano in Switzerland said that “inner fatigue” had made his office “unbearable” to him.

Pope Benedict XVI, who passed away in December, gave the world a lesson in humility when he announced his resignation in February 2013 — merely into the eighth year of his papacy, citing a “lack of strength of mind and body”. He was 86. Unlike priests and bishops who must retire at 75, a pope usually continues in his papacy until death. However, Pope Benedict XVI created history when he chose to resign.

No shame in resigning
Some of us may perceive that a leader who resigns is not an effective leader. However, we all need to understand that there is no shame in resigning. In fact, we have to applaud the leader for doing so because it means that he has a sense of self-awareness and humility. He is aware that an ineffective leader would be doing a great disservice to the organisation if he continues in his role.

The situation becomes worse when such an individual stays on for too long just because he can. In spite of his ineffectiveness, he refuses to step down because it would be a blow to his reputation and to his ego. Or perhaps he thinks that by relinquishing his post, he would be unfaithful to the responsibility that has been entrusted to him. Whatever the reason may be, an ineffective leader who clings on to power does not have the interest of the organisation at heart. They are detrimental to the growth of any organisation.

Certain leaders who stay on for too long are soon accused of showing favouritism, as well as practising nepotism and cronyism. In extreme cases, the leader is accused of embezzlement of funds, sexual harassment, intimidation, etc. Acknowledging that these are the risks of having long-serving leaders in office, laws and rules to limit the tenure of leadership have been put in place by various parties.

Limiting leadership tenures for good governance
Countries like the United States of America and France limit its presidents to two terms, which is approximately 10 years. In most grassroots leadership in parishes, the maximum tenure for leaders serving in ministries is two terms, which is equivalent to four years. Even parish priests are reassigned to different parishes every five to six years, depending on the bishop of the diocese. Almost every government, organisation, and ministry acknowledges that effective leadership must have a shelf life.

Great leadership is having self-awareness and the humility to admit when the time is right to bow out. There is no shame in doing so. In fact, it could be a profound lesson for other leaders to emulate.

(Julie Lim Seet Yin believes that a satisfied life measured by one's heart, mind and soul is better than a successful life measured by worldly yardsticks. She works for a Japanese bank and is responsible for its Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. She serves in various church ministries and charities and can be reached at: [email protected])

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