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It's always an adventure to be in a position where one's decisions as a leader affect an entire community. You have supporters on one hand and opponents on the other who remain your constant companions as long as you're the Decision-Maker. Whether you choose right or left, yellow or green, regular or unleaded - your supporters will be ready to pat you on the back, while the others draft the next round of expostulations. I can't begin to imagine what it must be like for politicians, judges, or CEOs of major companies where significant resources or even people's lives are riding on the decisions they make from day to day. Talk about Ulcer City!!

For some reason I've become acutely attuned to examples of leadership in my surroundings. For instance, what catches my attention in church? The leadership team - the pastor, elders, administrators, and those who run various programs and have had to make tough decisions from time to time. What would I do if I were in their shoes and had an important choice to make? What options would be available to me? What should influence my decision? How would I handle dissent? I watch them, and I learn somewhat, although I don't learn nearly as much by observing as I would if I had a mentor to walk with me on my own journey of leadership.

Politicians have also caused me to reflect on the dynamics of leadership. Whether I agree with a politician's decisions or not, I know that the job itself must be incredibly tough. When you've got powerful people pushing and tugging you in all sorts of directions how do you even find time to stop and think things through? As I watch politicians make decisions I see some sway back and forth with public opinion, others stick hard and fast to their objectives, and often there's a delicate compromise of the two. Sometimes voters do indeed know what they're talking about and politicians need to be responsive to the public's voice. At other times a politician will have more information and a more objective grasp on a given issue, and must stick to his/her guns. In the meantime, short of publishing a line of hilarious comic books that poke fun at politicians, a politician couldn't hope to make everybody happy. How do they deal with the pressure, besides indulging in gourmet dinners, fancy diplomatic vacations, or de-stressing in a trendy yoga studio? OK, enough with the jokes. Leadership - it's tough!!

Even television shows like Babylon 5, Star Trek Voyager, and 24 have recently taught me about leadership and tough decisions. For example, when Captain Sheridan mediates arguments between irate diplomats on Babylon 5 I marvel at his ability to think on his feet and guide everyone to the best solution. When he receives orders from a corrupt Senator I admire the way his integrity and creativity lead him to find an alternative.

So what does it take to have the backbone and confidence to make it through sticky and unenviable positions as a leader?

For one, you have to rely on the right advisers. No matter who you are you'll need advice to deal with tough choices, and you'll definitely want wise, thoughtful, and mature advisers to support you when you need them most.

It also helps to know the difference between humility and timidity. Humility in leadership would include recognizing your limitations, knowing that you need to be challenged by advisers and people you trust, and being able to admit when you've made a mistake. Timidity in leadership would include second-guessing yourself too often, relying on others to make your decisions for you, deflecting the responsibility (and the heat) for unpopular but necessary decisions, and being swayed by intimidation. Humility is definitely the way to go.

A third resource for leaders is knowledge; they say knowledge is power, and (whoever 'they' are) they're right. If you don't have enough information to make a decision then do some research and apply a little critical thinking. Work it out on paper if that helps. The more we develop our information-gathering and problem-solving skills, the quicker and more naturally those skills will return to us when we need them down the road.

Next comes integrity. Be responsible, honest, fair, respectful, and stand by your convictions, come hell or high water. Also, practise what you preach. E.g. If parents enforce a "no cookies before dinner" rule on their children, then they ought to follow that rule themselves. Same thing goes for leaders.

And my last pearl of wisdom, for now, is authenticity. Here and there over the years I've felt the pressure to perform, to take on a personality style that isn't mine because I felt it was expected from someone in my role, whatever role that happened to be at the time. But I learned that giving in to this pressure is exhausting and risky. Sooner or later people will see through the disguise, and the very fact that they detect your disguise will be cause for them to doubt your credibility. So be genuine and be yourself - it'll count towards you in the long run.

I'm sure if you Googled "leadership" - (by the way, I hereby declare 'Googled' a verb) - you'd find TONS of websites outlining the virtues and characteristics of good leadership. But that's not the point of this post. When I put together an online community for cross-cultural families I had no idea what I was getting into; all I could do was follow my vision. I'm thankful for all that I've learned about leadership so far, and would absolutely LOVE to have a mentor (besides Captain Sheridan, Captain Janeway, or Prime Minister Harper) who could walk beside me through future learning moments as I carry on with the task of leadership.

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