Graduate schools teach about leadership in a vacuous, antiseptic manner divorced from the personal relationships and the intangible connections that leaders face. Lessons become exercises in engineering as if leaders just place the proper procedure in a linear sequence and results follow.
We equate leadership with ‘doing’ scientific management, management-by-objectives, re-engineering, standards-based processes, data-based decisions and any mutation thereof. PERT [planning, evaluation review technique] charts from the space shuttle era and the litany of planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, and budgeting [PODSCORB] still ring in the ears of people who think results are produced strictly through processes and models. In addition, the emphasis is on ‘deliverables’, ‘measurables’, and ‘metrics’ as if tangibles are all that matter.
People however, are not machines that respond to linear directions. And coercive power does not motivate. Arie deGues, author of The Living Company, stated, “Companies die because managers focus on economic activity of producing goods and services, and they forget that their organization’s true nature is that of a community of humans.”
People are hungry for something greater than themselves. Data and information are useful but they do not have the power to motivate people, to have them commit their potential and talent, or to have them dedicate their lives. People yearn to live lives of significance grounded in extraordinary relationships in pursuit of high ideals and principles.
Leadership is about ‘being’, not only ‘doing’. Meister Eckhart, the German theologian, stated: “People should not consider so much what they are to do, as what they are.” Leadership is about character and principles — our core beliefs that speak louder than words and is presented in our own unique way.
‘Being’ has to do with authenticity; it has to do with our values, with integrity, with disposition, with our beliefs, and with respect, dignity, and humor. Primarily it has to do with human relationships. Humans lead: procedures and information do not.
Being is about genuineness, truth, and essence, not titles, appearances, status, or ego. It is about being secure in who we are that allows us to take risks, endure criticism in hard times, and not bow to the attachments of power or possessions.
Our unique human-ness communicates more than we know. Commitment can come from exuberance, but it also lives in quiet resolve. Leadership can sail on the wings of charismatic figures, but it also can travel on the intensity and passion of calling and love. Talent can define promise but talent devoid of wisdom is dangerous. The call to serve can be through the clarion call of bugles or it can come through the quiet reflection of solitude and calling.
Some people see leadership as a matter of control and power. Others see power as the energy of potential, commitment, and thought. Relationships, not processes, are the keys to leading and helping people fulfill themselves at work. The real issue is creating relationships that capture people’s passion for great causes and commitment to the common good.