The Turks have a homely proverb ‘the fish stinks first at the head’, meaning, that if the servant is disorderly, it is because the master is so. This ancient proverb from a leadership perspective reveals that a leader is responsible for whatever is not working in an organisation. When we read stories about or witness the collapse of institutions, it should not surprise us that the statement ‘a fish rots from the head down’ rings true. Every organisation takes its lead and tone from its leader and thus when things go wrong, more often than not, the root cause can be traced to the leadership. John Maxwell’s famous statement that everything rises and falls on leadership collaborates this idea.
A leader leads by example and the attributes the leader exhibits soon become the standard the organisation operates, revealing itself in its culture, strategy, and eventually in the organisation’s overall performance.
To keep the fish fresh from rotting from the head, the leader must not blame the environment, workforce or even the weather, they must look at what they are doing (or not doing) and make the necessary changes there first. Regardless of what these changes may be, and the pain that might accompany those changes, only the leader has the power to make the change they want to see in their organisation.
- Why should leadership first look to itself as the root cause of failure in their institution?
- What practical actions will you take as you begin to ‘change your ways’ as a leader?