Looking up is positional. It means you acknowledge you are not on top. There is a higher place. There is a better vantage point. Looking up is necessarily an action born of lowliness.
No matter your station in life, you are accountable to someone or something. Whether it’s a boss, a board, a parent, or a government, you are not on top. A President has to answer to the people who put him in power. A corporate CEO has to a answer to a board. A private business owner has to answer to regulators and the marketplace. Your corporeal body answers to finitude. You do not have ultimate control.
Even still, our relative power, even in its finitude, matters. It matters in the here and now for those over whom power is exerted or entrusted. It matters in the long term because power shapes the future. So, while it’s a challenge for leaders to accept the finitude and limits of our power, it is equally, if not more, difficult to accept and own the immediacy of our power and the outcomes thereof. When you are in relative power, someone us looking upward at you. Owning that requires great resolve.
Balancing the relatively inconsequential nature of one’s finite power with the fact that one’s power is very real and meaningful in the here and now is everything when it comes to thriving as a leader. Whether you are Mussolini over Italy or a parent of a small child – your people will treat you as you’ve treated them when the power dynamic shifts.
The answer is humility. For the believer, this comes in prayer and supplication. Prayer is submission. It is where you ask for help when you are alone. Corporately, it is when you bring others into a common supplication for common ground. For the nonbeliever, this can look like accountability or introspection. I won’t attempt to go too far down the path of opining what nonbelievers do to authenticate humility, since that’s not my paradigm, but the notion is the same: to understand power, a leader must, first, understand what that power yields.
To gain this perspective, leaders must put themselves in the shoes of those we lead. We must understand our power and see what it looks like to be looked toward. This requires looking upward. When we see how our power affects and influences those we lead, we gain perspective. We learn that matters of life and death (livelihoods, corporate success) are in our hands.
This is why looking upward to God as a leader is essential. Recognizing our finitude in our relative power structures and surrendering our ego and hubris to the ultimate and eternal power is a necessary first step of authentic leadership. Looking upward grounds you. It shows you what real power is. It acknowledges where you are and shows you the assent ahead.
Once we’ve seen the apex, we must then look inward to determine our fortitude for the climb.