Leadership…Who Cares

Given the prevalence of a results oriented focus, leadership development is very often means leadership skill development for results.  The premise is that an individual could get results—the measure of effective leadership—if he/she just acquired the right skills. This operative paradigm casts a leader as a skillful mechanic of the business machine, that if equipped with the tools and techniques he/she can keep it running—just like a well-oiled machine.  Why else is it so common to hear MBA programs and leadership development workshops promote how they provide their participants with the skills and tools they need to be effective?

Accordingly, each year organizations spend huge sums of money sending their aspiring young MBAs off to leadership training seminars or workshops with the expectation that they will acquire the requisite skills to bring leadership (i.e. results) to the organization. Understandably the recipients of this training view their acquired skills and tools as instrumental to them moving up the hierarchy; supporting efforts to advance their career, in pursuit of a leadership position.

This serves to further the erroneous belief that leadership is a high rung in the hierarchy. This belief perpetuates the misunderstanding that leadership has a positional requirement and that one’s leadership prowess is established with the getting of results, such as growth in material assets or profit.  Unfortunately this belief subverts the very thing upon which leadership rests.

A key principle of leadership—often overlooked in business—is that it requires a deep and wide sense of caring.  And caring is not a skill nor can it be acquired through training!  More specifically, the way leadership realizes what is observed on the outside is through development of the inside.  Leadership emerges from an awareness of self that flows from an understanding of what and who we truly are.

Accordingly, the road to leadership has more to do with interior development than skills training for material (or external) accomplishments.  Interior development includes: the development of self, moral development, social development, emotional development, and intellectual/cognitive development.  While there are other developmental realms, these are most critical to the leadership experience.

Thus leadership is not about climbing to the highest rung in the hierarchy it is about rising up to our ‘I-We’ responsibility.  With this understanding our search for examples finds such people as Eleanor Roosevelt (who acted on a vision of women’s rights and social justice) or Nelson Mandela (who acted on a vision of racial equality and moral integrity) who have provided the leadership experience. There is no ‘Me’ or ‘Us’ in these!

If a person is fortunate enough to have attained an upper rung of an organization’s hierarchy, then he/she has the positional authority and thus the added responsibility to make the world for those he/she touches a better world.  Not for ‘Me’ but for ‘I-We’!  A better world is one wherein the business of business enables a job to become a joy.  For a person to lead he/she must learn how to—not trained how to—act in a deeply caring way.  In a world such as ours this takes courage!  Could this be why the leadership experience is so rare?

23 thoughts on “Leadership…Who Cares

  1. A very interesting read. I believe that leadership must be, to some degree, the art of dissent. Those that rise high on the ladder usually get there by being very good at folling along with the ideas of someone else. (the person who can promote them). Rising to high levels in this way, as you say, is mostly an indicator not of leadership, but of a high degree of followship.

  2. The art of dissent…maybe. I do know that good leadership does tick people off (those who hold onto to what is) now and then.

  3. Bureaucratic structures–I mean this in Max Weber’s technical sense, not the pejorative sense–left to their natural inclinations, produce “followership.” When the creation of careers becomes the principal objective of a management “team,” you get “bureaucracy” in the pejorative, everyday sense of the term.

    To Gregory’s point about “internal” development, I am reminded of a talk that I attended in Santa Monica about ten years ago. The speaker was the Dalai Lama. After his main talk, a woman in the audience asked His Holiness, “What can we do to promote world peace?” At first I was a little annoyed. I wondered if she was trying to stump the Dalai Lama, or, perhaps, just trying to draw attention to herself. Or maybe she was a “plant.”

    His Holiness took the question seriously and replied to it. I will never forget his answer. He said, “Treat everyone you meet like an old friend. If everyone in the world did that, there would be no more wars.” He continued, “Start with your neighbor. Do you wait for him to greet you first when you are both leaving for work in the morning? If he doesn’t, do you greet him at all? Don’t wait. Just greet him.” Come to think of it, maybe that lady was a plant after all!

    I share this knowing that, for many people, getting a greeting from their bosses is rare, if it happens at all. Imagine that! What kind of “interior” must someone have to come into work everyday with a load of “expectations” for his or her subordinates, and not even have the will to acknowledge their humanity with a morning greeting? I have often wondered if there is an effective way to screen this type of person from being placed in authority over other human beings. Probably not, because–and here’s the part worth thinking about–these people actually know better. They can usually talk the talk and get through such screens. Yes, they actually know better. There’s some food for thought!

    I am not saying that this problem can’t be solved. But to solve it, a truly compassionate person would have to be at the apex of the bureaucracy. Fortunately, there are such people out there. That’s not to say that they are common, but thank God for the ones that are there.

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