Why do you want to lead? Why did you want to assume a position of leadership? These are two fundamental questions. Is it a matter of completing a resume? Is it ego? Is it a matter of expectations – yours or others? Is it a matter of power and authority? These questions matter to the people who are led, but also are of prime importance to the person leading. What is the drive to lead?
Leadership is important in all of our lives – personally, nationally, and professionally. Why and how people become leaders are important issues to ponder because principle is vital in leadership. The principles we hold focus our perspective and vision. The lens through which we see leadership defines how we will behave.
At times, people see leadership through rose-colored glasses. They begin to believe that style will supercede substance, and that image and appearance are at the core of leadership. Look good. Dress well. Play the part. Try to rely on charisma. They personalize the position so that it is synonymous with the person holding it.
Leadership is not style over substance. While style is engaging, when organizations face dire issues, style falls mute in the cacophony of chaos and ambiguity. Too frequently we fall prey to charisma and the cult of personality. Leadership is about principle, not personality. The ‘empty suit’ syndrome is about hollowness dressed up in appearances.
Style is important, but it can lead to some serious problems because it may be a prelude to manipulation, if personality and personal interest like popularity take precedence. The cult of personality also broadcasts that there are ‘special’ people who should or deserve to be leaders, unless the assumption that there is an inherent destiny for some to lead through connections, birthright, fame, or fortune. If leadership is based on the concept of special-ness, then it becomes divisive. If leaders are special, then we, the people, are not. Specialization produces distance, not connection.
The concept of distance is important in leadership. To the extent special-ness increases the distance between leaders and followers, is the extent to which their legitimacy is compromised: the greater the distance, the lesser the credibility and, conversely, the smaller the distance the greater the credibility. As Heraclitus said: “Dogs bark at people they don’t know.”
Distance, however, is not about physical or geographical distance. It is really about substance and relationships that either builds believability or produces ‘straw dogs’* pretending they are leaders. What is the distance between a leader’s … Words and behavior? … Values and processes? … Goals and outcomes? … Self and authenticity? … Relationships and significance? … Experience and learning?
In politics, particularly, we cynically listen to candidates share words that ring clear and then do something totally alien or nothing at all. We listened to noble values and then experience bankrupt procedures and policies devoid of principle. We hear the bugle call of great goals and experienced paucity of resolve or hollow achievement. We hunger for realness and genuine-ness in our leaders and find phoniness and feet cast in clay. We yearn for relationships built on trust and straight talk and find they dissolve into condescension and aloofness. We have also had the promise of talent fall on the barren, rocky soil of ego and arrogance. So many lack the courage to admit failure and to learn from it.
Appearances and posturing, to some, are a greater virtue than success. The Brahmins, who live above the fray of everyday life and believe that they should inherent power, eventually lose the very commitment to lead. Leadership is more than role-playing, just as it is more than processes and practices we learn about in graduate school.