“For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.” – C.S. Lewis
I first came across this quote as my family was reading through C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. My wife pulled this section from The Horse and His Boy for our kids to memorize and it was left on our kitchen chalkboard for an extended period of time. It was something that I saw every day for days in a row. What was meant as something for my kids, 8 and 6 at the time, began to deeply impact my leadership.
First in every desperate attack – Leaders lead. They’re out front. When there is a problem leaders don’t shrink to the background, they walk to the front-line. When it’s time to “attack” a leader stands at the head of his or her team and is the first to begin the charge. This is not a position of rule or oppressive power, it is one of inspiration to a group of people who need to see their leader standing tall and confidently in the face of a desperate situation. True leaders put themselves in the places where fighting is the fiercest.
Leaders provide vision for their teams. In a desperate situation it is the job of a leader to point people to a vision that helps them see the way out; to help them see what victory is and how it can be attained. In these moments leaders must make decisions quickly and confidently.
There are many things that can, and should, be delegated as a leader. Being the first in line to battle with your team when times get tough is not one of those. Your team needs to see that you are willing to “get in the trenches” with them when times are difficult. Your team needs to see that you are willing to do everything that you ask them to do.
A leader that isn’t dirtied, bloodied, and scarred isn’t truly a leader at all.
Last in every desperate retreat – Sometimes things don’t work out the way they’re planned and sometimes there’s need for a retreat. These moments are just as important as the ones when you’re charging with your team towards a problem.
When things go wrong leaders don’t blame others, they own their decisions both publicly and privately. They’re the last ones to retreat.
Leaders will give their teams freedom to take risks and try new things, but will make sure they don’t get killed if they fail. Leaders provide systems and structures that help teams retreat with their lives still intact. This isn’t to say that accountability isn’t present, it most certainly should be. Any good leader will spend time evaluating both people and processes so that lessons can be learned from each retreat.
There are definite consequences to a retreat. There is always loss of some kind, but a true leader never withdraws from a team member leaving them to be exposed and killed in battle.
Laughing louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land – Leaders spread joy and positivity in the midst of a famine. There will be famines of various kinds on the journey of leadership, and the easiest thing to do is to complain and remember “when the days were good.” The reality is that the good days of the past can’t carry you through the famine of the present.
A leader finds hope and joy in the now, not in the past. They move their people to do the same. A team will take its attitude cues from its leader. To evaluate this principle one only needs to look at their team. Your metaphoric fine clothes and loud laughter in the midst of a famine will set a culture of positivity and hope and is a culture that must be protected at all costs, even to the point of removing people from the team who are a detriment to that culture.
Building a culture of hope and positivity doesn’t mean that you hide from reality. Hiding reality from a team harms them. It cheats them from sharing the burden together, as a team. A true leader will help his or her team see reality in conjunction with hope.
“For this is what it means to be a leader: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.” – C.S. Lewis
This post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Student Ministry