Do Leaders Really Matter?Indispensible. To be sure, Lincoln and Churchill have mattered, but does every leader matter?
Of course, every leader matters to someone. But here Mukunda is talking about leaders who matter on a larger scale—those that matter to all of us. What would have happened if someone else had filled the same role. “Leader impact can best be thought of as the marginal difference between what actually happened and what would have happened if the most likely alternative leader had come to power….Will he or she make significantly different choices than the other plausible candidates.”
It gets down to how we choose our leaders and how we advance people through an organization. This process, Mukunda calls the Leader Filtration Process (LFP). A given LFP will filter candidates through a process designed to find those who conform to a specific value system—a Modal or standard leader. Occasionally an Extreme candidate will slip through. Many organizations weed out potential Extremes. The military’s promotion system is an example of a tight filtration process. At the other extreme, entrepreneurship is a very loose process—you become an entrepreneur just by deciding to do it.
A leader that has bypassed an LFP is likely to be an Extreme. Charisma helps leaders bypass filtration. “Family connections, personal wealth, and celebrity, for example, all smooth the path to power without subjecting candidates to the risk of being Filtered out by the LFP.”
Modal leaders can be highly successful under normal conditions. They are good at maintaining the status quo. I would associate management with Modal leaders. Extremes, on the other hand, are all about innovation. “Extreme leaders will be much more likely to change the goals their organization or state is pursuing and to adopt means to achieve those goals that other leaders would not—that’s why they have such marked impact compared with other Modals.”
If you are stuck, an Extreme leader may be just what you need. But while Extremes deviate—and that may be a good thing—they are “far more likely than Modals to have dramatic successes and failures.”
“Filtration is supposed to prevent leaders with undesirable characteristics from gaining power.” This is quite understandable. However, “many of those undesirable traits aren’t purely negative—in the right situation, they can be a huge asset.”
What helps make an Extreme great is when they couple their decisions with humility. “The Extreme leader does what others would not do, even when others advise him or her against it. To make this sort of choice when the stakes are high takes enormous confidence. Sometimes, however, the Extreme’s advisers will be right. When that is true, the great Extreme leader will have the humility to defer to their judgment. It is this almost paradoxical combination of self-confidence and humility that marks the transcendentaly great leader.”
Mukunda’s Leader Filtration Theory has implications as to how and when we choose certain types of leaders to lead us. He recommends that if you are a Filtered leader that you bring a few Extremes into your inner circle.
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In Leadocracy he writes that the only way to fix the what problems—the deficit, unemployment, and insufficient social services to name a few—is to get the right who into government.
Smart finds that there is a huge untapped source of potential leaders in the private sector—if they would just step up. But they don’t—in droves—because of fear. Fear of not being able to make a difference, fear of the financial and psychological costs, and fear of public scrutiny.
But they should for three reasons, says Smart. First, a leadership role in government is a new challenge and an opportunity to grow your leadership skills. Second, because you can make a difference that is enormously satisfying. And third, in government, you interact with an amazing range of people—you build relationships, help them in ways only you can, and become part of a broader community that is making people’s lives better.
Smart founded The Leaders Initiative with the goal of having 1500 private sector leaders complete a two-year stint in government (local, state, or federal) by 2030. The hope is that it will have a positive multiplier effect on encouraging more private sector leaders to consider “government leadership” in their career plan.
You can find out more information, take the leadership pledge, and even start a local chapter by going to The Leadership Initiative website.
Smart states, “Democracy works best when voters choose great candidates.” It seems like a simple statement, but it explains a lot. He says we are not very good at it. He does offer some tools and tips for determining how qualified a candidate is for the task at hand, and ensuring you are “hiring” the best leader for the job. He hopes we can reverse our tendency to:
• place too much emphasis on likeability
• place too much emphasis on public-speaking ability and debates
• place too much emphasis on the single hot-button issue that has little to do with our overall quality of life and the real problems that plague our communities
• place too much emphasis on the physical attractiveness of the candidates
• and we tend to be lulled into following candidates who “feel our pain” and merely reflect their understanding of our problems, but who do not have the demonstrated ability to solve them.
I would agree with Smart. However, I would add that government isn’t broken because, in most cases, its leaders lack ideas, are bad people, bad leaders, stupid, incompetent or just a bunch of amateurs. It’s broken because they are in a system that rewards them for pandering to their constituents. It’s how many of them keep their jobs. It would be a mistake to think that somehow government got all of the bad leaders and the private sector is hoarding them—and if we could flip-flop the situation, the problem would be solved. It’s a systemic problem.
We see leaders in government that should know better, giving people what they want not because it is the best option for their constituents, but because they want the votes to keep them in office. They effectively stop leading.
We do have a who problem. But realistically it is not just a matter of getting the “good people” in. It will take a tremendous amount of fortitude for anyone wishing to serve in government to take the time to educate instead of pander, to do the hard things rather than the expedient, to lead rather than follow, to stand on character instead of popularity. But then, we would probably vote them out.
So the issue is something we have to remedy within ourselves too. It’s also an issue the Founding Fathers didn’t think we should take lightly.
Of Related Interest:
What’s Wrong with Leadership Training Today
I Hired Your Resume. But Unfortunately What I Got Was You!
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What’s Wrong with Leadership Training Today?The End of Leadership, “coupled with our feeling entitled and being emboldened, saps their authority, which then drains their power and influence.”
Commenting on the 2011 budget-ceiling talks she finds that Barack Obama’s followers are “more disposed to resist him than to support him….No one was able to lead…and no one was willing to follow.” Perhaps no one was able to lead because no one was willing to follow.
Leading in America is now more difficult than ever “not only because we have too many bad leaders, but because we have too many bad followers.” Kellerman cites lack of involvement as the culprit, but it goes further than that. We have never been taught how to support a leader in the right way. Followership is as important a skill as leadership.
Kellerman notes that the contract—you lead, I’ll follow—between leaders and followers has been undermined “because of the information to which followers now have access, too many leaders are judged by too many followers to be unethical or incompetent or both.” Familiarity with our leaders had bred contempt. Technology has changed the social landscape providing us with so much more information. But it has, I would argue, informed us more broadly, but for the most part, not more deeply—if we even had the time or the inclination to go more deeply. I would also suggest that we are not, at times, very good judges. We lack facts and context much of the time. What frames our judgments are often selfish concerns—just like our leaders. And too, we rarely judge others in the manner that we would like to be judged.
The End of Leadership offers a report on the state of leadership and followership today. Kellerman has surveyed the history of leadership to pinpoint a trend—the diminishing power and influence of leaders and people in authority and the increase of power and influence of ordinary people—followers. In recent years, communications technology has played a large part. “The effect on leaders is to diminish them. The more we know about how leaders and managers manage, the more they tend to shrink.”
The contract between leader and follower has changed. The assumptions on which it was based has changed because first, “the old justifications for having power, authority, and influence are no longer so persuasive and second, because people in the present think of themselves are more important, more entitled than did people in the past.”
Kurt Anderson asked in New York magazine, Is Democracy Killing Democracy? He writes: So now we have a country absolutely teeming with irregular passions and artful misrepresentations, whipped up to an unprecedented pitch and volume by the fundamentally new means of 24/7 cable and the hyperdemocratic web. [There is ] the misapprehension that democratic governing is supposed to be the same as democratic discourse, that elected officials are virtuous to the extent that they too default to unbudging, sky-is-falling recalcitrance and refusal. And the elected officials, as never before, are indulging that populist fantasy. Just as the founders feared, American democracy has gotten way too democratic.
I wonder if we have—in our radical shift to the entitlement of followers and the bad leadership that encourages it—sowed the seeds for an overcorrection in the other direction. Perhaps we will find ourselves welcoming a society governed by extremely self-deferential leaders to sort it out. History shows us that when societies get to the point that they can’t properly govern themselves, they don’t get more disciplined and make the necessary corrections, they instead get behind anyone that will make all the “bad” go away—usually with negative consequences.
Because we have been able to “do” leadership in a way that has been less respectful of the follower and get away with it, doesn’t mean we were doing it right. While old methods of leadership are not tolerated at the present time, it doesn’t mean leadership itself has changed. The “right” way of leading people has never changed; our approach to leading people just swings back and forth from ditch to ditch. History shows us that we rarely get it “right.”
Kellerman observes that in the world in which we actually live, “leaders tend to put self-interest ahead of the public interest.” How true.
The idea that our leaders reflect who we are should give us pause. Much of the problem with leadership training, in my view, is that we are trying to develop something in leaders long after the train has already left the station. It’s not that it can’t be done. It’ is just much harder. Good leadership development begins much earlier in life.
Given our situation, Kellerman asks, how do we learn to lead in the twenty-first century? How to learn to lead when leaders are diminished from what they were, even in the recent past? How to learn to lead when resources such as power, authority, and influence are scarcer than before—and when any number of followers is as likely to be resistant as deferent? And, finally, how to learn to lead when the context itself is fraught with complexity and constraint?
Could we develop betters leaders if we developed better followers and would better followers create a pool of better leaders? Should we be training for followership? Should we be teaching the right kind of followership is leadership?
The End of Leadership is a vitally important book that every leader/follower should read and consider, but it is the tip of a much larger discussion about leadership, followership and society. Kellerman writes that “it is meant as a caution about the future of leadership in the twenty-first century. For nearly everywhere, leaders are found wanting, followers are restive, and the context is changing—sometimes at warp speed. So unless we get a grip, the prognosis is grim.”
Kellerman says that the leadership industry must make at least four changes:
Of Related Interest:
Good Followers Make the Best Leaders
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Presidential Decision Making: How and WhyBob Woodward once wrote, "When you see how the President makes political or policy decisions, you see who he is. The essence of the Presidency is decision-making."
Looking back on decisions made, we often evaluate them based on our biases and current sensibilities. But to truly understand them we must see the world as they saw it. That is what Ragone does in Presidential Leadership. He takes each of these decisions and recreates them from the president’s perspective. It makes for an engaging and thought-provoking read.
All of the decisions he selected were controversial at the time and required courage to see them through. The thread that runs through them all is persistence and conviction. Often in these decisions, the president had to make a choice between the good of the Union and his own personal beliefs. While many more decisions are worthy of consideration, he chose to focus on:
In reliving these moments in the pages of this book, you will gain a new appreciation for what it took to bring them about, their consequences and the origins of some of the issues we face today.
Some of the decisions made were certainly a product of their time. What president today would deal with a tax revolt by personally leading 13,000 troops around the country in a show of force to intimidate the protesters as Washington did with the Whiskey Rebellion? But it proved to be the right thing to do. There was no bloodshed. “It was a rather anticlimactic ending to what many historians consider the greatest constitutional threat prior to the Civil War.
Then there is the colorful account of Andrew Jackson’s handling of the nullification crisis brought on by the Tariff Act of 1832. The Union was at stake. “Jackson,” writes Ragone, “had the perfect skills for the crisis, if not the demeanor. He was ruthlessly consistent with his rationale….He understood the importance of public support and was adept at rousing patriotism through his words and deeds. He wasn’t afraid to be forceful when necessary, yet he tempered his natural impulsiveness because he knew it wouldn’t serve him well. And he had the capacity to grow and learn, something that can’t be said for every holder of the office.” His convictions no doubt guided Lincoln three decades later.
Teddy Roosevelt’s approach to building the Panama Canal surely epitomizes the man. About his actions, Roosevelt said, “We would have a number of profound discussions, and they would still be going on now, and the Panama Canal would be in the dim future yet. We would have had a half century of discussion, and perhaps the Panama Canal. I preferred we should have the Panama Canal first and the half century of discussion afterword.”
The well narrated history alone makes this a great read, but there are great leadership lessons to be found here as well. Reading through the accounts, it is easier to see how one decision would frame decisions and issues far into the future. Each decision creates a pattern of interaction that then influences thinking and behavior over time. Every decision creates an emergent system. Our decisions matter.
What drove Harry Truman to fire Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War? Did Gerald Ford know that his pardon of Richard Nixon could very well end his political career? Why did John F. Kennedy challenge America to reach for the moon?
6 Keys to Becoming SuperCompetent
You have to decide to be good at what you do. Once you have made the decision to do so, SuperCompetent by productivity expert Laura Stack, provides the method. She has isolated six interconnected traits or mindsets that make up the SuperCompetent person:
Key 1: Activity. They are driven by intense focus on priorities and have a clear sense of direction.
Action: You need to determine what you should be working on.
Key 2: Availability. They control their schedules.
Action: You need to make time for it.
Key 3: Attention. They develop the ability to pay attention to the task at hand.
Action: You need to focus on those tasks.
Key 4: Accessibility. They are organized and can locate the information they need to support their activities.
Action: You need to organize the information you need to complete your tasks.
Key 5: Accountability. They are self-disciplined and don’t blame others.
Action: You need to be responsible for your results.
Key 6: Attitude. They do what needs to be done to make things happen. They are proactive decisive and fast.
Action: You never give up.
“Each key requires close attention to and a profound understanding of your own strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities in all areas to truly excel.” Stack begins with a short SuperCompetent Assessment to give you an idea of the areas you need to focus on. From there, she provides so much content that even the most competent among us would find something to think about. She provides simple approaches to help you improve in each of the six areas. Some are so simple that you may ask yourself, “Why am I not doing that?” (See the section on accountability.)
A friend told her, “Oh, it didn’t bother me. I had a mission, not an agenda.” “So often when launching a new endeavor,” writes Stack, “we get caught up in the agenda of the day—or worse—someone else’s agenda for us. We lose sight of our purpose.” Don’t get distracted by the details.
Then there is the problem of the ever-growing To-Do List. She list ten issues at the heart of the problem like: You haven’t made the necessary decisions. Your list should be full of clear, actionable ideas. “If you set a vague goal—like ‘Have a sale’—then you’ve still got a lot of thinking to do before you can hit the ground running and make progress.” If it isn’t actionable, it shouldn’t be on the list.
SuperCompetent provides the motivation to rethink your habits and your approach to anything you do; to live and work more responsibly. An sometimes all we need is a little push. Stack writes, “To be consistently successful, you need to be consistently productive.” I find that productivity ultimately comes down to self-discipline. And when you are successful at it, it serves to reinforce the behavior. Better performance promotes our feelings of competence and the enjoyment of our tasks. Productivity equals morale.
Political Leadership and CompromiseOn Election Day our minds turn to political leadership. Men and women are elected with the expectation that they will honor commitments they have made to the voters. This often leads politicians to take a short-term view of almost everything. At the same time, plagued by reality, a politician (or any leader for that matter) may find that they have to change direction or offer compromise. This leads to the “disconnect” we frequently have with political leaders. The problem facing politicians is that reality doesn’t sell. (And of course, we play a hand in that.) So frequently, what gets them into office is not the approach that will get the job done. It is a dilemma all leaders face. It’s a dilemma that requires a certain degree of wisdom.
Prudent flexibility, adaptability and compromise are necessary qualities for leadership. Yet we often hold in high esteem leaders who don’t back down more than those that compromise their position. No one wants to be viewed as weak. But a leader that will not change or even listen to the need for change can cause irreparable damage. It’s easy to get lulled into a sense of our own permanence. We must remember that leadership is temporary. It is a sacred trust that we hold for only a short time. The skill is in understanding what one can be flexible about and what one should not. We should never compromise principles, but approaches (even the proper understanding of how those principles are applied) may need to be adapted. Values and approaches are distinct from universal laws and principles and are derived from them. The former may change; the latter never does.
The fact too remains, that we may be wrong, our perceptions might be faulty and our assumptions may be without foundation. When faced with the facts, we need to be able to change direction and chart a new course without losing site of the ultimate goals. Stefan Stern recently wrote in an excellent post on knowing when to shift your position, “If you are heading full speed ahead for the rocks it is time to change direction….Good leaders adapt to changed circumstances, and admit it when they have made a mistake.”
In the introduction to Profiles in Leadership—an excellent collection of essays on leadership—biographer Walter Isaacson shares a historical perspective on compromise:
The greatest challenge of leadership is to know when to be flexible and pragmatic, on the one hand, and when it is, instead, a moment to stand firm on principle and clarity of vision. Even the best leaders get this wrong sometimes. I learned this when writing a biography of Franklin. His instinct was to try to balance the conflicting values that were at issue during moments of tough debate and to find common ground. At the Constitutional Convention he was, at eighty-one, the elder statesman. During that hot summer of 1787 the rivalry between the big and little states almost tore the convention apart over whether the legislative branch should be proportioned by population or with equal votes per state. Finally, Franklin rose to make a motion on behalf of a compromise that would have a House proportioned by population and a Senate with equal votes per state. “When the table is to be made, and the edges of the planks do not fit, the artist takes little from both, and makes a good joint,” he said. “In like manner here, both sides must part with some of their demands.” His point was crucial for understanding the art of true political leadership: Compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies.
This is also made apparent in another essay—from the same book—by Professor Alan Brinkley on how Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt dealt with the Great Depression. He writes that in 1928 Hoover was one of the most admired people in America largely due to his extraordinary management and unchallenged brilliance. “People that interacted with him routinely referred to him as the ‘great man.’”
FDR on the other hand was not as well regarded and was mostly known for his connections and family background. “In the end, however,” writes Brinkley, “Herbert Hoover left the white house thoroughly discredited, repudiated, even hated, while Franklin Roosevelt was revered by much of the world when he died in office.”
The difference was flexibility. Hoover was “A victim of his convictions, convictions that seemed to him close to absolute….Hoover’s unshakable principles shackled him time and again in his effort to deal with the Depression.” On the other hand, the quality that separated Roosevelt “most decisively from Hoover, was his pragmatic, experimental nature.”
The contrast between Hoover and Roosevelt, Brinkley concludes, “suggests that leadership cannot succeed through ideals and strong convictions alone. The world is a complicated and ever-changing place, and a great leader must be capable of adapting to change and understanding the diversity of the ideas and principles that shape history.” Roosevelt was more successful in guiding the United States through the two greatest crises of the twentieth century, “in part because his values were appropriate to his time but also because he understood that values must reflect the realities of his age.”
Of Related Interest:
Confusing Principles and Approaches
5 Leadership Lessons: Joseph Nye on Leadership
Joseph S. Nye is University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. In The Powers to Lead, he relates leadership and power. He expands further on his concept of soft power—co-opting people rather than coercing them—and hard power—influence involving pressure or threats—but he shows how effective leadership in the real world requires a mixture of both.
Hard and soft power are related because they are both aspects of the ability to achieve one’s purpose by affecting the behavior of others. They sometimes reinforce each other and sometimes they interfere with each other. The use of either one or the other depends on context. The ability to know which to use when is what he calls smart power. We need to know our context.
He says, “Soft power is not good per se, and it is not always better than hard power. Nobody likes to feel manipulated, even by soft power. Like any form of power, it can be wielded for good or bad purposes, and these often vary with the eye of the beholder.”
Here are five leadership lessons from The Powers to Lead:
Almost anyone can become a leader. Leadership can be learned. It depends on nature and nurture. Leadership can exist at any level, with or without formal authority. Most people are both leader and followers. They “lead from the middle."
Smart leaders need both soft and hard power skills: co-optive and command styles. Both transformational and transactional objectives and styles can be useful. One is not automatically better than the other. Leaders depend on and are partly shaped by followers. Some degree of soft power is necessary. Presence/magnetism is inherent in some personalities more than others, but “charisma” is largely bestowed by followers.
Appropriate style depends on the context. There are “autocratic situations” and “democratic situations,” normal and crisis conditions, and routine and novel crises. Good diagnosis of the need for change (or not) is essential for contextual intelligence.
Leadership for crisis conditions requires advance preparation, emotional maturity, and the ability to distinguish the roles of operational, analytical, and political work. The appropriate mix of styles and skills varies with the stage of the crisis.
The information revolution and democratization are causing a long-term secular shift in the context of postmodern organizations—a shift along the continuum from command to co-optive style. Network organizations require a more consultative style. While sometimes stereotyped as a feminine style, both men and women face this change and need to adapt to it. A consultative style is more costly in terms of time, but it provides more information, creates buy-in, and empowers followers.
Are Leaders Destined to Disappoint?Historian David Greenberg wrote in the Atlantic, “Americans have fallen, starry-eyed, for leaders who speak of a future unencumbered by history’s weight.” Intellectually we must know that this isn’t possible, yet is it too much to expect real change, fundamental change—a break from the past? It’s unsettling to think that we are only slaves to our past. Are we demanding too much?
Greenberg continues, “Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, FDR’s New Deal, JFK’s New Frontier, even George H. W. Bush’s New World Order—all began with the promise of the new. Of course, after the flush of a campaign, both voters and presidents have invariably discovered that history imposes constraints.” And we are left disappointed.
Of course, this dynamic affects not only political leaders, but leaders everywhere. One always has to deal with what is (past and present) and the real level of desire (the crisis)—for transformational change to occur. Leadership is a creative act. A leader seeking transformational change needs to have three basic elements in place:
clearly defined goals (the how),
strong values with which to measure those goals (the why), and
an environment that is urgent to change (an opportunity).
Expectations create opportunities for leaders. The motivation from which springs the leader’s initiative is most often influenced by certain expectations on the part of the potential followers. Rosalynn Carter once said, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” This suggests that a leader’s responsibility is to do more than just serve up our wants. As Insead’s dean J. Frank Brown said, “Leaders must learn to listen and question before they act.”
We get the wrong kind of leaders when we place all of the responsibility of our expectations on their shoulders. In that environment we will always find individuals that are all too happy to pander to us and promise what they can never deliver in return for a title—placeholder leaders. Leadership is a shared responsibility.
A great leader must elevate their followers and give them power and responsibility to act or they can never really lead them. Greenberg writes, “Twenty-five years ago, the political scientist Theodore Lowi published a book called The Personal President. It argued that the increasingly large responsibilities placed on the president since Franklin Roosevelt’s time—of regulation, social provision, and economic management, to say nothing of the leadership of the free world—have exploded into impossible expectations. Every postwar chief executive, Lowi noted—and the observation still holds—has begun his presidency with high approval ratings and left office with the public chastened of its early optimism, if not disillusioned altogether.”
He concludes, “It is easy to propose that we lower our expectations for our new presidents—even, or perhaps especially, for presidents who come bearing lofty promises of transformation. But we can’t correct the problem, Lowi’s diagnosis suggested, simply by resolving to demand less from our chief executives or by vowing to learn from the past. The problem is rooted in nothing less than the presidency’s assumption of immense powers, and of a central role in our imagination. Candidates have no better path to victory than by inspiring us with dreams of a new political era, and presidents have no choice but to attempt “too much.” In doing so, however, they can only disappoint us.”
Perhaps we aren’t demanding too much of our leaders, we are instead, demanding too little of ourselves. Can we separate ourselves from our “history” and act creatively for real change? Maybe we need a little less heroic leader and a little more heroic follower?
It requires leadership at all levels.
Leaders Make ConnectionsThe Financial Times ran an excellent analysis on February 3rd by Edward Luce concerning the very tight inner circle—just four people—that Mr. Obama relies on for advice. In America: A Fearsome Foursome, Luce advocates a broader circle of advisers and notes, “To be successful, presidents need to separate the stream of advice they get on policy from the stream of advice they get on politics.” Intellectually we know that we need to get their advice and information from a wide variety of sources. In practice, however, it doesn’t always happen. We like to talk to those with whom we are comfortable with and share our views. It’s very reassuring. But dangerous.
Dangerous because it clouds our vision and makes us less agile. More importantly, seeking the opinions of others helps to make them feel a part of a larger purpose, connected to the leader and a part of a community. This points to a basic function of leadership: to make connections.
The point is made well in a follow-up letter to Luce’s article, published in the Financial Times, from Francis Bator, Harvard Kennedy School emeritus professor. Before coming to Harvard in 1967, he was for three years deputy national security advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson. He shared the following story with FT readers:
Treasury Secretary Henry Fowler, shrewd, effective, a superb negotiator, but somewhat shy of Lyndon Johnson, would occasionally feel in need of a presidential laying on of hands even when he had no serious presidential business. After one such occasion - it had ended with Fowler, sitting on the edge of the Oval Office loveseat, reading in monotone from his own memo on the floor in front of him, while the president was plucking yellow news tickers from the ticker machine at the opposite end of the Oval – LBJ turned on me, angrily: “What on earth did you bring him in here for, wasting my time ...” and so forth, but then stopped himself mid-sentence. “No, I’m wrong. Make me see him when he asks even if he has no real business! While you staff fellows are safe in the White House, these cabinet fellows are out there every day being shot at, on the Hill, in the papers, on TV. They are my field generals. Never forget that. They’ll be useless to me if they don’t feel connected to me. Always treat them with dignity.”A leader’s position is in the middle; to share and connect. In a world bent on differentiation, leaders must make connections.
Ten Lessons on the Meaning of Political GreatnessWalter Newell plumbs the depths of history in The Soul of a Leader, “in order to illuminate the recent past, the present, and the challenges to come. Taken together, while they not add up to a recipe for the perfect leader, they at least show how moral, psychological, and intellectual resources we inherit from the traditions of the West, its experiences and its reflections on statecraft from ancient times onward, can give us a compass for the challenges America’s next generations of leaders will inevitable face.”
Disconnecting HorizontallyIn his excellent analysis of How Rome Fell, historian Adrian Goldsworthy makes some interesting observations about how we tend to disconnect horizontally from anyone or anything outside of our group. We lose our sense of place and this makes any change so much harder. People resist change when they can't see the bigger picture and why it is necessary. The challenge is to cross our self-imposed boundaries into a world not of our own making and connect to the outside both personally and organizationally.
And this on ever expanding bureaucracy:
By their nature bureaucracies tend to grow. This was true in the Roman Empire, let alone with the massively larger government agencies of modern countries. Individuals within a department obviously have to focus on a particular task. It is only natural to believe that with more people they could deal with this more effectively. The larger they grow, then the more distant most members will be from the reality of the overall function of the department, and they will become even more removed in their way of thought to anyone outside. This is not inevitably a bad thing, but it does mean that they will continue to expand unless restrained, since their problem or concern is the only one they will see.
Lessons From FDR's Cabinet
Nothing to Fear about Franklin Roosevelt’s first hundred days in 1933. Here is an edited excerpt regarding the Cabinet he selected. It had the distinction of being sworn in at once on the same afternoon after his inauguration.
The Cabinet had gotten a lukewarm reception when Roosevelt announced it. Arthur Knock of the Times declared that “its composite trait seems to me to be diligence; brilliance it lacks completely.” The new Cabinet was criticized for lacking “big men.” One Republican congressman wisecracked that Roosevelt had kept his promise to look out for the “forgotten men,” since his Cabinet contained “nine of them and one woman.”
Adapted from Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America by Adam Cohen
The Presidential Inauguration: Firsts and FactsSince 1901, all Inaugural ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol have been organized by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC). They have provided us with a list of firsts and interesting facts about U.S. Presidential Inaugurations. President links go to detail pages on the JCCIC web site.
Weeding Out the Leaders We NeedIn Time magazine this week, Michael Kinsley writes that we don’t just need a good man in the White House this time, we need a great man. He thinks both candidates have the seeds of greatness, but “unfortunately”—and this is what caught my eye—“our current political system seems designed to weed out precisely the qualities that are most needed at the moment.”
He suggests that at a time like this we need astringency, not empathy. Feeling our pain won’t get it done. We need leaders willing to tell people what they don’t want to hear. “It's not comforting people about their current situation and reassuring them it will get better. It's telling them that the situation is likely to get worse and that only their efforts can determine how soon it will start getting better. Astringent leadership is Churchill calling on Britons to ‘brace ourselves to our duties.’” But he’s right. Who wants to put that in the White House?
We vote for people that tell us that they will fix everything and not bother us. We vote for people that don’t make us take responsibility—who can place the blame somewhere else—who will level the playing field at someone else’s expense—smooth talk over straight talk. History teaches us that this always comes at a cost. It’s problematic for both leaders and followers. Both get their roles wrong and both pay a price. Kinsley writes:
We have lucked out several times in our history when implausible characters showed unexpected greatness when it was needed: a country lawyer from Illinois, a spoiled patrician in a wheelchair, to name two obvious examples. Even more miraculous (though troublesome for democracy), both Lincoln and F.D.R. were elected by promising more or less the opposite of what they did in office. Lincoln said he'd preserve the institution of slavery. F.D.R. said he'd balance the federal budget.Can we expect this fortuitous turn of events again?
Fixing the Financial Crisis Once and For AllHoping to sound like leaders, Washington lawmakers want to get to the bottom of this financial crisis and create regulations to keep it from ever happening again. I don’t think is comes as any surprise to anyone that greed—on the part of both borrowers and lenders—is at the bottom of it. You can’t regulate greed out of existence. Regulation just improves creativity. Greed is regulated by character. Character is built at home, in our schools, in our churches, and yes, in our businesses.
No one likes to talk about character because it isn’t a quick fix, it often goes against our inclinations, it’s not immediately measurable, you can’t take credit for it, and it’s a time consuming, never ending process. George Eliot wrote in Middlemarch: “Character is not cut in marble; it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing.” It’s built in individuals day by day in little, almost imperceptible ways over the course of a lifetime. The problem is that we have only given a patronizing nod to character and politely moved on with the business at hand. How will I get mine if I don’t play it like everyone else? We learn too late, without character, no one gets anything.
Character needs to be part of the very fiber of the organization. It must be a part of its philosophy and vision. I don’t mean a statement of values we hang on the wall, but a statement of behavior beginning with the CEO on down. Tom Peters wrote in Thriving on Chaos that “effective visions are beacons and controls when all else are up for grabs….To turn the vision into a beacon, leaders at all levels must model behavior consistent with the vision at all times.”
In July, Hugo Dixon opined in the Wall Street Journal, “Greed for higher returns entices investors to take risks; fear causes them to avoid excess. When markets are healthy, the two are finely balanced. Problems emerge when that balance is lost.” You will find character behind this balancing act. Character stabilizes both people and markets. Character is inseparable from the culture in which it is formed.
Nothing will fix the financial crisis once and for all, but character will regulate it. Greed is a human issue and it will always be with us. It will always be something we need to train ourselves, our children, and our employees to regulate from within. The consequences can be devastating.
Apparently, Mr. Gekko, greed is not good. Lou Mannheim was right, “The main thing about money, Bud, is that it makes you do things you don't want to do.” Or shouldn’t do.
Ethics: Reinforcing Fixed Points
Of Chess Players and Banner-Wavers
“It’s a great huge game of chess that’s being played—all over the world—if this is the world at all, you know.”Dimitri K. Simes and Paul J. Saunders explained in The National Interest, why America needs chess players—not banner-wavers. “We have increasingly lost the ability to look squarely in the mirror before judging others and taking them to task.”
American leaders have taken their own share of ruthless, and even brutal, decisions….Such decisions, while obviously regrettable, were the result of the types of difficult choices that great powers must often make. But then it behooves us not to preach too loudly about our own sense of morality. It also means that, in crafting an effective foreign policy, we shouldn’t be blinded by our own rhetorical claims to ethical perfection—or to fail to recognize that many states see us as a “normal country”—one that pursues its own interests by any means necessary and often makes moral judgments about others that appear influenced by those interests.It is an interesting observation and points to a trap for leaders when they fall prey to grand delusions. There is an interesting 10-part series of articles in the Vision Journal--Messiahs! Rulers and the Role of Religion—that examine "throughout history, the desire of some men to become savior-gods and the proclivity of people to move toward them and support them, thereby giving legitimacy to their rule and encouragement to their fantasies of omnipotence. We will also see that religion is all too often harnessed and manipulated in the pursuit of such deification. Those who pretend at godhood, or who simply use it as a political device, often claim for themselves a unique anointing, the status of superman, or the ability to create supreme law. In their delusions, they become mistaken messiahs." Here is a link to each article in the series:
Men As Gods
The Coming of the "Christian" Emperor: Constantine the Great
The Fall and Rise of the Roman Empire
Aspects of Empire—Roman, Holy and German: Otto the Great
Where the Sun Never Set: Charles V
I Am Called to Change the World: Napoleon
Hearts of Darkness: Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini Part 1
Dictators' Downfall: Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini Part 2
Purging the People: Lenin and Stalin
Oriental Christs: Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and Kim Il-sung
The Final False Messiah
Calls for Leadership: The Failed States Index 2007Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine has just released the Failed States Index. It is a sobering survey of 177 countries ranked in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict and societal deterioration. It is based on 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators. (You can click on the map above to view a larger image detailing the status of various nations of the world, including your own.)
The third annual Index found the greatest improvements over the last year in Liberia, Indonesia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Bosnia. Unfortunately, the risk of failure is running higher than last year in Lebanon, Somalia, Equatorial Guinea, and Niger. Although these countries may seem world's away, their problems have consequences for all of us.
Failing States have one thing in common—bad leadership. Foreign Policy concludes, “Many states must endure poverty, corruption, and natural disasters. But, for the weak, there is nothing more costly than a strongman calling the shots.” Billions in foreign aid and security are no match for bad leadership. Effective leadership can reverse a states slide to failure.
Three editorials from the last two days, speak to the leadership issue behind these problems. First, here are some comments from The Daily Star in Lebanon titled, “If Lebanon becomes a failed state again, failed leadership will be to blame:”
Lebanon's slide downward on the scale toward failure was more pronounced than that of any other country in the world. Who or what is to blame for the fact that Lebanon is once again rapidly on its way to becoming a basket case? Yes, the war with Israel created problems, but the leaders of Lebanon have compounded those "difficulties" and transformed them into an utter disaster. Leaders on both sides of the political divide are guilty of playing solely to their respective supporting audiences and ignoring everyone else. Not one has risen to the challenge of being a leader for all the Lebanese. [There exists a] paralyzing impasse that has been brought on by their political leaders' shared predilections for hubris and maximalism.From AllAfrica Global Media, we have this opinion from Nurudeen Jattau in Nigeria:
It is needless to say that the tragedy of the contemporary nation-state of Nigeria is the seeming absence or the lack of visionary leadership in all spheres of governance. This precisely, is the singular reason why analysts are agreed that Nigeria may never reach anything close to its full potential as a nation. All things considered, and whichever way the pendulum swings, we must understand and appreciate the fact that leadership is invariably a means to an end, and not an end in itself.Consider finally, an editorial by Fouad Al-Obaid in the Kuwait Times:
If one studies history and the civilizations that preceded us, one will most certainly not come across common names. However leaders on the other hand, do end up in the pages of history for several reasons. They do so when their failure is total and their incompetence is obvious to all. Just as much as they do so when their bravery, their tactics, their leadership capability along with their capacity to move minds and hearts in the most turbulent times is put to test and they succeed.Foreign Policy would agree with Mr. Al-Obaid. They write that effective leadership doesn’t necessarily make a leader popular. “But then, such leadership is exactly what more failing states need: a head of state who chooses continued reforms over his own power and recognition.”
I am reminded of something John Lukacs wrote in 1993, “The great and enduring problems are political, not economic. They involve the lust for power, not for money. (But then, this has been true of mankind ever since Adam and Eve, misunderstood by Adam Smith as well as by Karl Marx.)” You don't have to look too hard to find applicable lessons here for any leadership role we find ourselves in.
Exemplary LeadershipMichael Dingake wrote this piece on leading by example in Mmegi, Botswana's daily independent newspaper. Here is an excerpt:
Any leader who like my clownish primary school teacher who used to say, "Do as I say, not as I do," cannot be a true leader. Leaders must be role models. Any leader who speaks like my teacher forfeits the role model status and is disqualified for leadership ambitions. Leaders who do not inspire emulation can at best be regarded as incompetents, perhaps clowns on the political stage. Exemplariness is a non-negotiable leadership quality.Exemplary leadership or leadership deserving of imitation is what Aristotle would call virtue in action. It's authentic. Not just talking the talk, but putting it into action. Our lives must correspond to the truth which we proclaim. Often times this means transcending our own egos. Leadership isn't something you turn off and on. It's a reality you express.
Leadership in Local Government
The London-based Leadership Centre for Local Government launched an eight-point manifesto for leadership that reveals the challenges that face local authorities today. Stephen Taylor, chief executive of the Leadership Centre, said: “The challenge is as much about governance as it is about government. The manifesto emerged following a series of unique sessions that we held with a number of authorities designed specifically to give leaders and their respective chief executives the qualitative space to critically reflect on their leadership experiences. A summary of the manifesto's eight points are:
1. “It’s about leadership, not just leaders.” Leaders work within teams which interact with others across the organisation and externally.
2. “Leadership is of the place, not just the organisation.” Local government leadership is about engaging local people to make the area a better place in which to live.
3. “Respect difference.” Leadership work must be in the context of a council’s legacy, challenges and way of being, the manifesto says.
4. “Leading means telling a story.” Leaders need to be engaging and to make sure that people think their ideas are worthwhile.
5. “Leading requires ‘reading’.” Leaders need to be able to read situations and tailor their responses appropriately.
6. “Members and officers travel together.” Executive and corporate management teams need to work together.
7. “Politics matter.” We need to develop politicians as well as managers.
8. “People learn more from experience, not from being told.” Reflection on past experiences is important.
This is also available in a 20 page PDF booklet entitled "Living Leadership."
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