Today, as in the past, we anxiously await the emergence of leadership but unfortunately we are often disappointed. Irrespective of whether leaders are selected or elected, the experience provided falls far short of the experience needed. We seem to always get much less than what we hoped for. Far too few of those we find in positions of authority—which erroneously we label leadership—have what it takes to facilitate the needed partnerships for progress. In spite of our experience, we remain hopeful that the next one we get or select will be the one. What should we look for?
The Special One
Believing that leadership is for the select few, we make our choices based on things that are not universally available to all. We look for the special one, the one who is clearly above us all. After all we’d be foolish to choose a commoner—one lacking charisma, rank, status and appropriate accoutrements.
We choose based on superficial characteristics; things like charisma, or on how one adorns him/her self with the things that symbolize the attainment of privilege and power. I am reminded of the lyrics of a song by the Smothers Brothers that sums it up quite well that went something like this: I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy…if I had an outfit I’d be a cowboy too!
So we seek those with the appropriate trappings commensurate with being of special status, and thus we assume capable of leading us all. Moreover, many seek to acquire the trappings so that they too can be thought of as leaders. Such a belief merely perpetuates disappointing experiences.
A Matter of Results
Believing that what matters are results, we often base our selection it. This makes logical sense: if we want results then we must select those who, in the past, have delivered results. If we can’t get the one, then the next best thing is to seek those who have been lieutenants of noteworthy corporate captains who have gotten results—the many lieutenants of Jack Welch come to mind. So we look around for great results and—assuming all cause is linear and local—we then look for the one closest to it. It’s like the one closest to the accident must have caused it—physical proximity becomes the indicator of capability. Unfortunately, systems thinking and the influence of non-local causes are lost among most.
However if we understand just a little bit about the interaction of forces and the phenomenon of emergence in organizations, then we know that cause is not linear and local. We know that results come from the system and the effect of one person can’t be separated out from all the other forces in play [That is, we know from basic algebra one equation with more than one unknown is mathematically unsolvable].
Further, from systems theory we know one person acting alone can’t change the system; thus seeking a savior is a fruitless endeavor. Moreover, researchers have never been able to prove that an organization’s performance is predictable by the traits of its chief executive officer. Again unfortunately, in spite of the available theory to inform judgment, most often the credit or blame bestowed is misplaced.
Let’s Be Truthful
Often the important meta-decision is glossed over or totally skipped. Usually in a rush to select the one we hope will save us, we don’t invest time exploring and understanding our unspoken requirements. Our choices miss the target because our understanding of what is needed—and of what would truly be helpful—is misguided.
Like a love-starved person, we tend to look for leadership in all the wrong places. Fundamentally we misplace exterior image—trappings and things—for interior integrity. We seem to gloss over the fact that leadership is an inside job that begins with and emerges from truthfulness.
Truthfulness is not just about telling the truth, it is about being a truthful person, especially to one’s self. A truthful person could not live with him/her self if he/she was in the practice of saying one thing and yet doing another—duplicity is a disengaging quality. Moreover, such a person could not perpetuate the belief that he/she was the (sole) cause of his/her organization’s success. The commonly held assumption that great leaders necessarily have huge a ego is misguided.
At base, truthfulness requires having a sense of self beyond an egoic sense of self—a developed sense of self. It is far more likely for such a person to facilitate the power of a ‘We’ than it is for an egoic ‘Me’ to do so. And truth be told, it is the performance of the ‘We’, not a ‘Me’ on the top rung of the hierarchy, that has greater influence on an organization’s success—a bad offensive line with a good running back is still a poor running team.
The capability emerging from the synergy in partnership far exceeds the ability in one person. Essentially truthfulness is the basis of the necessary conditions—such as trust, respect, and honesty etc—that make for productive relationships and from which synergy emerges. Therefore, because of the enhanced performance capability emerging from the interaction of forces within an organization we should be seeking synergy, not saviors.
In short, truthfulness is the seed of productive partnership for progress. Given that truthfulness is the seed from which the fruits of synergy emerge, how can we foster it?