If you have not done so yet, I recommend you reading the books of Paulo Coelho. He is a very well-known writer from Rio de Janeiro who has written wonderful novels that are easy to read and yet very profound. The most famous of his novels is “The Alchemist”, which describes one’s desire to pursue a dream. It is very beautiful and poetic. Paulo Coelho is a strong advocate of spreading his books through peer-to-peer file sharing networks, so you may find his books online for free.
The thoughts I wish to share today are inspired by another one of his books titled “The Fifth Mountain”. The story is based on the figure and story of the biblical prophet Elijah, with the focus being his time in the city of Zarephath (in the book named Akbar). In the book, Coelho has explored the manner in which the prophetic questioning authority, rebellion and liberation, and thinking for oneself are important in one’s relationship with God and one’s life work. At the same time the novel is a powerful metaphor of human self-confidence and strong desire for self-fulfillment by helping other humans.
After reading the book, I found myself going back to the Bible and reading the chapters regarding Elijah. Towards the end of his life, this holy man found a priesthood companion and a possible replacement for his mission to the world. His name was Elisha and he had a strong desire to serve and follow in his master’s steps. Let’s read and ponder over the last few moments of Elijah’s life and try to understand the powerful leadership teaching he leaves to all of us, but especially to Elisha. In the final moments of Elijah’s time on earth, Elisha is with him. Here’s the story of what happened: “And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.” After this they continue in their farewell and then Elijah is taken away from Elisha, who sees the way he is taken away.
There are a few leadership principles that I see in this little story.
The first one is that every leader needs mentors, especially emerging leaders. Elijah had chosen Elisha to be his successor and he had prepared him for this event. Elisha knew this and waited patiently his turn and in return for what Elijah was doing for him, he supported him with loyalty and faithfulness. Elisha never let Elijah down as a follower, but so Elijah never let Elisha down as his leader. The support and respect for their mutual roles was critical to their success. Note also several other leadership principles underlying Elisha’s preparation: a) leaders must understand their call and role, waiting patiently on the perfect timing for their authority; b) surrender former ambitions; c) pursue good mentors; and d) hunger to grow and develop. If we wish to influence another person for the good of our cause, whether it be the vision we have for our organization or the desire to build an effective team, the way to start is by nurturing them. John Knox said: “You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time.” At the heart of the nurturing process is genuine concern for others. And as we try to help and influence the people around us, we must have positive feelings and concern for them. We cannot dislike or disparage them. We must give them respect.
Finally, just a word about respect. I personally find that you gain respect mostly when you give your power and authority away to others to make them take personal risks in order to make decisions. In fact, that is when respect is gained. And that is when real mentorship happens.