At the end of Prince Caspian, the second installment of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the lion Aslan asks the titular prince if he is ready to rule. Caspian answers that he is not. He is still too young and inexperienced to lead a kingdom properly.
Aslan responds, “Good. If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.”
The young boy could have easily answered with hubris and told Aslan that he was indeed ready to rule his kingdom. After all, he had been raised knowing he was the rightful heir. He was highly educated and well-trained and had an entire empire of Narnians ready to follow his lead.
But he answered with humility. He recognized his shortcomings, his inability to work alone to provide all his subjects would require.
Consider the leaders who are setting an example for society today. How many of them raced after superficial, short-lived aspects of leadership? How many would have answered, “I was born ready!” had the lion asked them the same question? Throughout history, these examples of leadership have been the status quo: men and women who are hungry for power rather than empowered to support others.
Good leaders are not those who are simply born into their roles. They aren’t even those with the most money, dedication, ambition, or skill. Respected leaders earn the title and still recognize where they fall short.
In January, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she would be stepping down from her position. "I'm leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility," she said. “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.”
Ardern, who took office in 2017, shocked her home country and the world with the announcement. She was known globally for her compassion and empathy, and though her national approval ratings had shrunk, she still had a fighting chance at reelection. It was an unprecedented move in the world of politics, and it contrasted heavily with the uncompromising fight for Speaker of the House, which took place in the United States that same month.
She has since received praise for prioritizing the needs of her country over her own political success.
Her actions reminded the world that the best leaders are those whose aim is not to lead but to serve. She worked to understand her country’s needs but did not compromise on understanding her own limits. She turned to those around her to carry the torch when that ceiling was met.
Many of us fall into the trap of craving leadership for the ego boost that it provides. We take leadership development courses to understand how to delegate, how to discipline, and how to dictate. We convince ourselves that we could run a tight ship, believing efficiency to be a clear sign of proper command. But how often do we exercise our helping hands or our listening ears?
Ardern is an impeccable example of women's impact on the leadership culture. Female representation is increasing in executive positions, and women now have an opportunity to change the status quo. Put aside popular ideals. Your goal should not be to climb a ladder or make more money. You should seek to improve your sphere of influence, putting the needs of the greater good before your very own by upgrading the required tools for the job. Tools of humility and servanthood, strength to give before you take, and power to listen before you speak. Only then will you truly be prepared to say, “Yes, I am ready to take the lead.”
What’s in your toolbox, and does it reflect that you are the leader our world so desperately needs?
Interested in more insight into leadership? We’re highlighting exemplary female leaders all month long. Follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn, and never miss a post.