The Best Leader is one we Barely Know Exists #7 #cong21


“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

We need to change the story around strong leadership myth. It asks too much of leaders, and discounts the role others play in their success. The mythical leader doesn’t allow for the duality that is required of a good leader – to be modest and wilful, humble and fearless. We should look at reluctant leaders and accidental leaders. We should look at groups who have collective leadership and strength in different personalities.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. The ‘myth’ of the great lone leader is a damaging one.
  2. Leadership is a collective effort.
  3. A duality of qualities is needed for good leadership
  4. We should all be prepared to be leaders, even if by accident.

About Carlene Lyttle:

Carlene is originally from Derry. After spending six years working in development with a technology company in Switzerland, the pull home grew too strong and in 2017, Carlene decided to move to her mothers’ home – Inishowen, Co Donegal. She loves the accidental encounters of living in a costal village. She has found working with social entrepreneurs, environmental start-ups, and community projects keeps her up late at night, listening to the Atlantic waves, with excited ideas about opportunities to change for the better. CongRegation brings life to the late-night ideas and it is lovely to share them with people as well as the sea.

Contacting Carlene Lyttle

You can follow Carlene on Twitter or connect to her on LinkedIn.

By Carlene Lyttle

The myth of the leader whose exceptional traits drove movements forward – Collins, Ghandi, Jobs,- is dangerous. By romanticising the idea of a leader as the strong, single minded, stand-alone – we are doing a disservice to effective leadership. Leadership needs to be shared to be effective. The myth of the leader is damaging for organisations, movements, and groups.

My initial thoughts of good leadership land on inspiring female leaders. The quiet, considered leadership of Jacinta Arden whose actions and words were continually referred to when discussing Society 3.0 as last year’s Congregation. Her approach to the pandemic and the difficult decisions she made for New Zealand were a shining example of leadership. At the time we were reeling from the shock of the first lockdown of 2020 and, for us in Donegal, facing the extended second lockdown. Her leadership demonstrated a quiet power that came from passion and hard work. She made very difficult decisions but showed empathy and authenticity when doing so. When writing this, Angela Merkle’s 16 years as German Chancellor came to an end. The hard work and a willingness to make difficult decisions were shown with her handling of the refugee crisis and closing nuclear power plants. Are the best leaders, the ones who do not want to lead? I am an introvert. Or a learned ambivert. I don’t want to lead. When I joined my cousins running in a relay team of the Belfast Marathon I chose the third leg of five. Don’t want to start the race, don’t want the triumphant finish. I want to run my race with as little attention to me as possible.

But by running my own race and getting on with things I’ve become an accidental leader. I’ve started a trend for cycling and walking to school in the village. I’m hearing my values increasingly respected and repeated by others at the noisy family dinner table. Taking the path less travelled and seeing people behind me makes me an accidental leader, of sorts.
The MICA crisis in Donegal is a lesson in collective leadership. The mica campaigners have been working tirelessly to get the government to address the problem of defective blocks. People in Inishowen have known about the increased mineral content in building blocks that came out of local quarries for 7 or 8 years. The issue has been causing considerable stress and uncertainty in many families. The families put their faith in the government to resolve the situation for the homeowners, as they had done for homeowners in Dublin who had defective blocks due to pyrite levels and they followed the local leaders who worked tirelessly and consistently for many years. When it was realised that the reduced redress scheme would only be possible if they had tens of thousands of euro of their own money a new leader came to the fore. The campaign needed a face – branded in a Donegal GAA shirt, jeans and white trainers. A social media star – bringing hundreds of local people onto the Twitter platform. He joined the two hard working woman who have worked tirelessly, passionately, consistently. When a face was needed on The Late Late Show, a mother and her children and a lecturer with a PhD became the face of the MICA crisis. There is space for all of them to lead.

We should all be prepared to be leaders, even the introverts. Leadership needs to be a collective. The range of personalities needed for effective leadership cannot be contained on one person. Let us leave the myths behind.