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Why Do We Even Need Leaders?

And Might the Leader be You?

I don’t know what your experience has been, but I’ve watched leadership around the world and in this country with a lot of alarm and dismay. . 


Why the History of Leadership Isn’t Pretty
 
It’s pretty hard to be impressed with the leadership of the world through the centuries.  If you really are a student of world history, you’ll find that the majority of leaders have taken their subjects’ money through taxation or plain theft, led their nations into endless wars, and left the majority of their people in poverty.  Today leaders seldom choose to lead their populations directly with arms, but they use words effectively to spin the obvious in order to fit their interests and to deceive whole segments of the population.
 
So why would anyone want to be led by any leader, or in fact, to be in leadership?  There must be a way out of this endless historical cycle.
 
Searching for Utopia—a World that Doesn’t Need Leadership
 
So many have set out to create a utopian world where you wouldn’t need the heavy hand of leadership.  Groups of like-minded people committed to a set of varied principles–from religious to lifestyle–worked to create a community of people who did not need leadership. 
 
They believed this because of their commitment to simply doing what the community had set out to do.  There are still about 200 communes around the world, a few lasting as long as 50 years, but only a handful have survived. The bottom line is that most communal, egalitarian efforts fail—so we’re back to trying to make leadership work. 
 
So Why Are There Still Leaders?—It’s All About Tribes
 
The need for strong leaders is embedded into the human experience.  It is part of our survival process, and I believe it will never greatly change.  The fundamental truth is that we as people began as small tribes composed of a few families.  Strong leaders were key to the survival of the tribe. We hunted for game, we gathered vegetation, we defended ourselves from warring tribes working to control what were perceived to be scarce resources.
 
Our human nature is built around the need for strong leadership. We have developed technology and mapped the known universe, but the human leadership dynamic is unlikely to change. 

Toward a New Brand of Leadership—What Is an Effective Leader Like Today?
 
A leader will be chosen or will emerge in most cases and in the majority of situations.  There are few cases where groups can long survive without a leader.  Yet leaders in any situation can become the key to group success or tragedy.
 
Here are a few of the ways that leaders must function today:
 

  1. If you breathe, you lead.  We are past the time when most leaders think that they should talk and everyone else should listen—that they are the center of everything.  At home, work, with family, and your faith community, today you cannot not lead. Every traditional institution so necessary for our well being has flattened in the last 30 years.  If you don’t pick up the ball and move it downfield, you will not only not win, the game will be over.

  2. Leadership Is Fundamentally about Outcomes.  I am astounded by how many people who write about leadership don’t understand the relationship of leadership to goals and outcomes. 

    The definition of leadership is: A person who sets or embraces an outcome and convinces people to achieve it while coordinating their actions and assuring its completion.

    If you convince your family what movie you want to watch and get them to the theater, you have demonstrated what a leader is. People confuse process with outcome.  There is no leadership without successful outcomes.

  3. Effective Leaders Are Honest People—they Don’t Lead with Lies.  Well . . .  l may just be hoping that’s true.  Lies in leadership have always been in vogue.  People indirectly seem to demand that we lie to them because if we tell them the truth they will punish us by rejection and withholding what we’re counting on getting from them. 

    And to tell the truth, I’m really great at spinning the truth.  But I’ve witnessed the devastation of leaders who believe that a clever lie is a social and management skill.   I’ve gotten to the point in my life that truth is the greatest tool of my leadership style.  I can’t tell you that I’ll always share with you what I know that you don’t want to hear from me, but I will not lie to you and will make every effort to share with you what I really think. 

    And I really think that people are in the mood for truth.  The appetite for truth has so evaporated in so many areas of our society.  I think we’re in the mood to hear the truth that although I disagree with you and our interests run counter to each other, we can ally with each other on many areas if we just keep talking.

  4. Don’t Sell Out to an Overly Restrictive Tribe.  I used to think that the tribe followed the leader until I found out that actually the leaders follow the tribe—at their worst, they will submit to anything the tribe espouses.   Tribes today are much more restrictive than they have been in recent history.  It actually begins with a group of people who want to follow what they see as the truth, and it ends in opposition to everyone else, whom they believe are locked in the lie. If you are a member of a business tribe, faith group, or political persuasion and you feel that it’s your duty to be true to the beliefs of your tribe no matter what, your world will continue to shrink until you and your group have no influence at all.  The world of your leadership influence will contract to nothing.

    5.  Lean into the Unique Leadership of Business.  I believe that business is a primary sector where I want to be a leader.  Business, with all its areas that need reform, is one of the components of our society that is fulfilling market needs and advocating for democracy, that respects law, and is investing in social justice.  As an advocate for business around the world I believe that business is a primary vehicle for the well-being of the globe.  I want to play a key role in making my organization successful so that it will fulfill the needs of our clients and put money in the pocket of our teams.  

Developing Leadership, Next Gen

Leadership is the single most important factor in human progress.  Yet during the last few years our attention has been focused on developing the astounding technology that we have today, often at the expense of organizational leadership.  We have an app for everything, but we need leaders to tell us where the path to our outcomes is.   We need to develop young leadership in general roles at every level. 
 
There have always been an incredible number of articles about what leaders are like—are they charismatic, good looking, tall, or geniuses?  If I had any of these qualities that would be a real plus for me, but my leadership ability is about convincing people to get together to do something that’s worthwhile, to keep them on track and focused on the outcomes.  Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes with a myriad of styles from authoritarian to collaborative.  It’s the ongoing outcome that counts.  That is the measure of a true leader.

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