Take me to my leader

What does leadership actually look like?

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

To put it simply, we Americans have a conflicted and contradictory attitude toward authority.

In general, few of us want “the government” or a boss or almost anyone else, telling us what to do.

On the other hand, too few of us have a clear sense of what we would do without them.

For most of us, our greatest fear is being “like everyone else” – even as we obsessively pursue what is “popular”.

Being “cool” at one time, meant to be independent, self-reliant and self-confident. Now it just means “to be accepted by our peers” – and, for the most part, that means people we already like or agree with.

Conforming, and not creating conflict has become a stand-in for leadership.

Antagonizing and complaining has become another substitute for anything resembling authority or responsibility.

We have, as one pundit put it, a generation of leaders behaving like children and children acting (in the vacuum) like adults.

Bosses and royalty

In most cases we have become accustomed to two types of leaders:

Authoritative leaders accept the power to give orders and make decisions for a group, and members of the group are expected to obey them.

Examples of this would be most schools, the military and most work situations. And some families. Siblings often find themselves in this unofficial arrangement.

Prestige leaders are awarded disproportionate benefits, and are not concerned with commanding others.

Traditionally, this would have been nobility and royal dynasties.

In more recent times, this would be any of our “celebrity” class.

We have established entire categories of “influencers” and others who are “famous for being famous”.

For many young people, this has become the ultimate career track of choice – being rich, living a glamorous life, and in every sense of the world, not being responsible for anyone or anything.

Just as a reminder; that would be the working definition of the opposite of leadership.

Which might explain the quality of authentic and effective leadership in business, politics and the arts in the past decade or so, especially in film and music – for example, have you noticed how many movies seem to be re-makes of re-makes? And so much current music seems to sound the same?

Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. – T.S. Eliot

Contrary to our assumptions and continual cultural messages, feeling important, or even receiving public adulation, is not leadership.

Leadership, at its most basic, is the ability to inspire a team to achieve a specific, definable goal.

The irony is that most children often have a better sense of what leadership is than most adults.

Most children intuitively know that leadership is inherently pragmatic – true leaders lead – and pretenders and posers pretend, and pose. And complainers complain.

Among other things, 5-year-olds recognize social hierarchies and are aware when others don’t contribute their fair share.

Children of this age consider someone a leader only when they sacrifice toward achieving the common goal.

“Leaders” who take more than they give are considered unacceptable to young children.

You can see more on how children perceive leadership and responsibility here.

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant. – Max DePree

Playing fair, getting along with others and going on to the next thing are key principles most of us should have learned in kindergarten, but for whatever reason, many of our corporate heads, political leaders and public figures of all kinds still struggle with them.

Knowing when to persist and when to compromise and choosing the battles worth fighting for are lessons many of us never fully learn.

The best leaders give credit to others for their contributions and don’t take credit for what they didn’t do.

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