Looking For Leaders In All The Wrong Places
One of the topics touched upon (assaulted?) in this week's Sanity Squad podcast (How Do I Call Thee Crazy? Let Me Count The Ways...) was the subject of leaders and leadership and our perceptions and interpretations of leadership.
...got me to thinking more about this curious lack--not just the lack of leaders, but the lack of talk about leadership, and the lack of desire for leaders.
I'm interested in why we (and I include myself here) are somewhat averse to the very word "leader..." touched on what I consider the heart of the answer, and that is that leaders require followers. Or at least we think they do, in the common understanding of the word "leader."
Now, who in American wants to be a follower? Practically no one. Individualism was built into this country from the start, and the distaste for a leader in that sense is not limited to the left--it's very strong on the right, too. The idea of "leader" is too close to royalty on the one hand and to dictatorship on the other.Neo goes on:
So we must be careful. And indeed, we have been. Since Vietnam and Watergate, the press has made it its business to tear down every possible idol, to expose our leaders' feet of clay at every step. This has the benefit that we are not likely to follow blindly or to idealize our leaders. It has the drawback that, blinded by cynicism, we often don't see their positive traits or credit them with any good intentions.
This tendency is particularly pronounced in that notorious cohort to which I must confess I belong, the Baby Boomers. Raised by parents who had renounced some of the authority of their own parents; encouraged by our numbers, prosperity, and the press to take our adolescent rebellion to extremes; many of us have taken the charge "Question Authority" to heart. Some never stop questioning it and rebelling against it, often just for the sake of rebelling.
This may indeed also be part of those leftist attitudes towards the military, a mixture of condemnation ("baby-killers!"), victimization ("poverty-stricken tools of the ruling class") and patronization ("robots").
...A leader has to give off an aura of trustworthiness and strength, and I don't know exactly how that's done. Eloquence can certainly be part of it, although it can also deceive. And of course, words have to reflect more than the aura of strength and trustworthiness, it has to be the real deal...
Neo goes on to discuss the various ethereal qualities of leadership of different leaders. Her post is thoughtful and reminds us that leadership- real leadership- is not the result of polls, spin doctors and other political packaging consultants.
It is one thing for political leaders to inspire us enough to vote for them, an exercise at which politicians have come to excel. It is quite another for leaders to inspire us to be better citizens.
With that in mind and as the political campaign season gets underway, we want to reexamine our thoughts on leaders and leadership.
What is a leader? On what criteria do we select our leaders, or those we follow?
These are no small matters. Government nowadays is less about real governance than it is about installing an agenda. The right and the left each believe that good governance is less about following the will of the people that elected them, but rather, they see it as a mandate to force an agenda on 'the other side.'
We are so accustomed to that definition of government, that we forget what real government- and real leaders, really are.
In fact, a real leader leads by empowering his fellow citizens. A real leader does not restrict his nation from elevating themselves and those around them. A real leader's principal concern is Justice, for his nation and for each and every citizen. These are not just empty words. A leader must protect us from enemies, from within and without (no, having another opinion does not make that person an enemy), in the physical sense of the word. A leader must also ensure that justice is within equal arms reach of every citizen. Justice must always be adorned with a blindfold.
It is not as if we do not understand leadership. We have had relationships with teachers, mentors, clergy or respected individuals that have made a difference in our lives. We instinctively understand they are leaders- because their influence made us better. They had high standards for themselves- and for us. They saw the best in and would not accept anything less than the best we had. They helped us set goals and helped us meet those goals. We were inspired and found the confidence in ourselves because they believed in us before or more than we believed in ourselves. Because of them, we achieved more than we ever thought possible at the time.
Those people are real leaders- and we love them for their leadership, to this day.
If we contrast those people with those we call 'leaders' today, we are made painfully aware of how cheated we really are. Those who claim the mantle of leadership in government, in the arts, education and business are not really leading us anywhere. In fact, they are depriving us of those very things that our teacher and others, saw in us. They do not want to see us elevated, reaching our potential, but rather, they want us to follow their agenda, and adopt it as our own.
Not even God asks that of us. We are to find and worship Him in the best way we can. There is no religion or belief by coercion.
Is it any wonder then, that people are fed up with government? After decades of deceit, fraud and malfeasance on the part of what we condone as leaders, is any wonder that much of the country takes no interest in the affairs of state? Why should people trust or care about their government? They have their own lives to deal with, so they will tolerate the 'little men' or 'little women' that keep the engine running.
These people aren't really leaders- they are managers and no more. They are functionaries, 'apparatchiks' in another language.
Are they really 'little people'? Of course they are. That teacher, mentor or other person we admire so much would do a far better job than the 'leaders' we have today, in the sense of fairness and morality. That is truth we all know.
So, where are the leaders? Why have they not stepped forward? What is holding them back?
Suppose you were driven by a real calling to serve and lead. Would you be so interested in entering an arena in which your every motive were questioned? Would you enter an arena where your honesty and trustworthiness we questioned every day? You are not above scrutiny or answering questions- but no matter how truthful or sincere, there will be an element that is not satisfied to disagree with you, even vigorously- there are people who will demonize you, your family and who are as comfortable with, and devoted to deceit, as you are comfortable with, and devoted to truth and honesty.
Such realities do not attract the best candidates for government.
The best candidates for leadership proffer what is almost unknown, nowadays.
There are matters of daily concern and familial responsibilities that we must concern ourselves with. A real leader provides the vision and direction we need as a nation. A leader causes us to think and better ourselves. We may be pre-occupied with our own lives and interests. Leaders expand our field of view and perspective. If nothing else, a real leader reminds us of what is really important to ourselves and our community. We are reminded of our priorities. We are reminded that those priorities are urgent. Bettering ourselves and our world is more important that an episode of a favorite TV show. Would you have traded a TV show for time with that favorite teacher or mentor? Of course not. Would you trade a TV show for important and meaningful time with your child? Not really a question, is it?
Real leadership delivers what we don't get now- an essential and vital vision of life itself. Real leaders provide those long term vision and goals that serve to inspire us, if for no other reason than to make the world a better place for our children. Leaders need to be known less for their management skills and more for their vision- a vision that is urgent, because making our nation and community a better place to live, cannot wait.
A true leader wants nothing more than to elevate his fellow citizens, to make them better and leaders in their own right- citizens to whom others can look up to- just like those teachers and mentors you had. A leader wants to make every citizen a mentor to someone.
We see and measure leaders by their credentials- what they have in their bag of what can be measured.
It is time we looked at leaders for what they do not have- inflated egos, an inflated sense of self importance, arrogance and 'connections' to the high and mighty. To lead is not to extend dominion- to lead is to serve. That does not make a leader weak- in fact, it empowers a leader, to know that with the power available to him or her, they choose instead to serve.
Leaders today need confusion, so as to achieve their own agenda. A real leader has no agenda other than what will best serve his fellow citizens- and that agenda is clear and never changes:
"There is meaning to life and you can make a difference. You have the power to empower yourselves. You can belong to the greatest generation- because that generation is our own, if we prioritize and implement those truths."
That is a lesson we have learned, each of us, before.
Portions of this post were published on November 2, 2005.