Political leaders create cynicism when they share words that raise our spirits and then do something totally alien or nothing at all. We hear of noble ideas and then experience bankrupt procedures and policies, devoid of coherence and principle. We hear the bugle call of great goals and experienced paucity of resolve or bogus sincerity. We hunger for realness and substance in our leaders and are disappointed when we observe obfuscation and posturing. We yearn for relationships built on trust and straight talk and tire when they dissolve into condescension and glibness.
The promise we seek in leaders falls on the barren, rocky soil of ego and arrogance as some leaders lack the courage to admit failure and to learn from it. To them, appearances and posturing are a greater virtues than the risk of candor and genuine-ness. They don’t realize that leadership is more than role-playing, just as it is more than processes and data analysis we learn in graduate school.
Graduate schools teach about leadership: sometimes in a vacuous antiseptic manner divorced from the ‘immeasurables’ and relationships that leaders confront. These lessons look like exercises in engineering. Just place the appropriate procedure in the proper sequence and you too can lead. Making a decision? Just collaborate and get the ‘stakeholders’ vision. Got a political problem? Just ‘network’ or gather poll data. Have student achievement trouble? Put standards in place and mine data for the solution. It all seems so simple, as if anyone can do it.
We teach the ‘doings’ of leadership. Processes going back to scientific management, management-by-objectives, re-engineering, standards-based leadership, and any mutation thereof. PERT [planning, evaluation review technique] charts from the space shuttle era and, of course, the military sounding PODSCORB [planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, and budgeting] still ring in the ears of people who want to produce results through management systems.
These ‘doings’ can be futile in getting people to coalesce around a common objective in a complex socio-emotional-political-economic environment. Deep commitment is not born out of analysis, data, and statistics. There is something more. People lead — procedures and data do not.
Data and information, while useful, do not have the power to capture people, to have them serve, to have them commit their talent, or to have them dedicate their lives. People are hungry for something greater than computer printouts, graphs, regression analyzes, and tests of statistical significance. Dee Hock, the father of the universal Visa credit card said:
“We are now at the point in time when the ability to receive, utilize, store, and transmits data – the lowest cognitive form — has expanded literally beyond comprehension. Understanding and wisdom are largely forgotten as we struggle under than avalanche of data and information.”
People yearn to live lives of significance and they don’t consider statistics in finding meaning, wisdom and relationships that really matter. Reaching for noble ideals beyond metrics nourishes us – inside and outside — and fuels our passion to serve something greater than self-interest.
Leadership is about ‘being’, not simply ‘doing’. Meister Eckhart, the German philosopher and theologian, stated: “People should not consider so much what they are to do, as what they are.” The vein of gold in leadership is about who we are as leaders.
Our being speaks louder than our words. ‘Being’ has to do with authenticity, values, integrity, beliefs and principles. Essentially it is about being the person we desire to be with our total being — head, heart, spirit, and soul. Being is about genuineness, truth, and essence, not about style and appearances.
Our being is not tied to ego or ‘having’ things or titles. It is concerned with who we are that allows us to take risks and endure criticism in hard times, and not bow to ‘losing’ position, power, or possessions. Our unique being communicates more than we know. Playing roles is not genuine or authentic, and is discerned more easily than imagined.
Human ‘beings’ are unique – so are leaders. Commitment can come from exuberance, but it also lives in calm resolve. Leadership can sail on the wings of charismatic figures, but it also can travel on the quiet intensity and passion of calling and love. Talent can define promise but ability devoid of wisdom is dangerous. The call to serve can come from the call of bugles or it can come through quiet reflection and passion.
People do not commit to great causes or risk their lives for metrics. The human spirit and our values and principles motivate – not graphs, metrics, or spreadsheets. How we are as human ‘beings’ and how we create relationships determines if we can capture people’s passion to make a commitment to a collective goal and the common good.