Yet two paradoxes immediately raise concern. First, one of the few realities that link the world’s leaders across the millennia is that they never studied leadership. Many of the truly profound people we now saddle with that label wouldn’t have recognized themselves as such — they were simply doing what they understood God, family, nation, or simply decency, demanded of them. The flip side of this paradox (that leaders don’t study leadership) is that the people who teach leadership are generally not, themselves, leaders.
The second and greater paradox is that leadership involves complex ethical dilemmas at every turn. Despite the ethical perils, we need good leadership and we crave great leaders. There is far too much abuse today by the hands of leaders who only know the tactics of fear and intimidation. If you question them, they equate your actions as questioning God (them). They leave behind a landscape of wounded laborers who will die with their hurts. As is so often the case in life, the best safeguards we have to preventing abuse is robust conversation — frequent, thoughtful, passionate, open, and inclusive.
About what do we need to converse?
- About the need for and the danger of leadership based on inspiration and charisma
- About the need for a compelling vision, and for forcing ourselves to notice our vision’s blind spots
- About the tension between affective leadership versus transformational leadership
- About the temptation to reduce leadership to management, or to consider leadership above management and ignore the details and the methods of implementing leadership vision
Finally, we need to think long and hard about the issue of character and compassion as a cornerstone qualification for true leadership. It is not so much running with the wolves, but intuiting and protecting the sheep that defines the ideal greatness of leadership.
What say you?
[Based on comments by Bradley Shavit Artson]