Like You Know: Message from the Morning Man by Kojo Yankson


Like You Know: Message from the Morning Man
by Kojo Yankson

4th August 2015

Being a leader is never easy. That is why we aren’t all leaders. Many people look at their bosses, their pastors, their presidents, and don’t know how they do it. How do they always look so calm, so poised, so relaxed, so in control, so well groomed? How do they always know the right decisions to make? How come they are so fearless? How do they survive all those hardships to become leaders in the first place?

Zelda La Grange was a personal assistant to Nelson Mandela for 19 years, and she said something fascinating:

“I’ve never met anyone who can face as much stress and pressure and uncertainty with a calm smile. It’s as if someone has shown him the future and he knows everything will be alright. By the end of my first day as his Assistant, I thought he was superhuman. By the end of my first week, I knew he was superhuman”

Some say leaders are born that way. I don’t know, maybe some are, but the real key ingredient to being a great leader is not something you find in your genes. It’s something all of us have the ability to do.

The truth is that human beings invariably apply one main criterion in choosing a leader. It’s not just about picking the tallest, or the best looking, or the one who they can relate to the most. No. Humans in any situation – whether it’s a shipwreck or a game show or an election – will always rally around the one who looks like they know what they are doing. That is an attitude that leaders cultivate.

Of course, it’s easier to do when you actually do know what you’re doing – which is why I always advise young people to do what they are passionate about, and then put all effort into becoming as knowledgeable about it as possible. But even with all the knowledge you can fit into your head, you will often come across situations where you don’t immediately know what to do. And your team will be looking to you for guidance, watching your every move. How do you deal with such situations? How do pastors and presidents and CEOs deal with such situations? How would Mandela handle it?

Let me tell you a story:

There was once a legendary ship captain who was woken from his bed by the First Mate with the news that they were being attacked by pirates.

“Bring me my red shirt”, he said calmly. The First Mate was a bit stunned, but he did what the Captain said.

The battle with the pirates lasted over three hours, but in the end, the captain and his crew prevailed. In a quiet moment, the First Mate asked the Captain why he had asked for his red shirt.

“Because I didn’t want my men to see me bleed”, he replied.

My friends, the key to making your team believe in you is that you must never let them see you confused. They must never see you panicking. Panic is more infectious than the most deadly virus, and it spreads just as fast. The appearance of confusion will cause everyone who follows you to doubt not just you, but themselves too. Imagine if your pastor told you he wasn’t sure God existed.

As a leader, you owe it to your people to remain calm no matter what. The duck-on-water analogy is often used to illustrate this. Calm and serene on top while paddling furiously beneath the surface. You will have tough decisions to make as a leader, but you need others who may not be as vested in the outcome as you, to follow you through those tough times. Act like you know the outcome, and those who are looking to you for leadership will follow you through any storm.

Now, the next day, the ship captain was awakened by the First Mate with the news that twenty pirate ships were attacking them. With the same calm voice, he said, “Bring me my brown trousers”.

My name is Kojo Yankson, and everything is going to be fine. If you believe me, there’s nothing we can’t do.