We view great leaders from the rear view mirror of history presented in rational, pristine scenarios without the fury of the emotion of the times. These leaders were some of the most maligned because they lived in the eye of the storm: Lincoln, FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Truman, King, Gandhi, Anthony, and Churchill.
The fact of the matter is the world is not a rational place: it is full of unanticipated shifts that challenge convention and present great challenges. How can we get a true perspective on leaders?
First, we need candor about leaders and leadership. Dispelling the mythology of leadership is a start. The pop culture view of leader as “hero” who saves the day through superhuman strength and intellect is fine for fiction but not reality.
The leader who rides into town and solves everyone’s problem actually breeds dependence because the people basically view themselves as impotent, powerless victims. Being dependent on an “outside” loner leader with a strong mystique is a destructive delusion.
Narcissism destroys relationships. True leaders create, cultivate, and sustain productive relationships, and help people fulfill themselves by realizing their talents in a purposeful venture. Being cool and aloof and above the fray is not the reality of leaders in systems where the quality of human relationships translates into productivity, commitment, pride, and satisfaction.
Genuineness, credibility and believability are the coin of leadership: not detached coolness, manufactured images and elite aloofness. In today’s environment, people desire leaders who are “real”, not those who are “playing a role” or talking in poll-tested lingo.
Second, leaders connect with people authentically, not through command and control power. Relationships with people require passion and trust. Leaders relate in ways that are “right” for them — that are a part of their personality and style. Leaders touch people, and their emotions, sense of mission, hearts, and minds by confronting their own feeling and fears, and revealing their own human-ness. Leaders are passionate, focused, and frank people. Leaders know themselves, understand what they stand for, and interested in making a difference.
Third we need to revise leadership education and training. Leadership training has focused on the “doing” side of organizational life — mastering systems and linear management procedures. Cause-and-effect approaches and measurement of outcomes based upon metrical “benchmarks” and “outputs” have dominated discussions of leadership. The assumption is if leaders “do” things right then people will follow. Leadership is not a techno-rational process.
Leadership is about “being”, not simply about “doing”. We know that some of the brightest, most technically proficient people cannot lead people. They lack the wherewithal to capture people’s imagination and inspire their hearts and imaginations.
Leadership deals with matters of the heart as well as the mind. Imagination, creativity, caring, integrity, and stewardship come from the heart and soul. The human spirit is captivated by the poetry of life, and resides in the deep meaning of our principles and aspirations. Techno-rational processes do not get the blood boiling or cause people to sacrifice for the common good. Meaning attracts people. Leaders help people make and find meaning.