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A Big (Obvious) Idea for Leadership–There Are NO Experts!

July 7, 2019

Google the word “leadership.” Last count there were 5.7 billion results.

Enjoy checking those links out.

More seriously, we seem to be collectively caught in a never-ending pursuit of what is leadership, comprising such questions as:

• Are leaders born or made?
• Who is a leader, whether in organizations or in the community?
• Is leadership the same as management?
• If they’re different, how so?
• What are the key traits of effective leadership (and management)?

Over many years, your faithful leadership correspondent researched and wrote a ton on leadership and related topics, not just in a blog, e-books and white papers, but also over 15 years when he worked in the public sector. No one’s an actual “expert” on leadership; indeed we’re all students of leadership, with each of us striving to gain greater clarity on the subject.

We like to defer to the so-called experts and gurus, when in reality no such beast exists. We’re all trying to understand the murky swamp of leadership and its cousin management. It’s just that some people have been placed on public pedestals as being experts or gurus. Reflect on these words by T.S. Eliot:

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know,
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

– (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, East Coker)

Because we’re human beings, each of us hauling around the baggage of mental models (the sets of assumptions we’ve acquired from life experiences, which influence the lens through which we see the world), we create our individualized perspective on topics such as leadership. It doesn’t mean that we’re right or wrong; it’s simply our view of the world. Where we get into trouble is when our philosophies on, say, what is leadership, become cemented, locked into a rigid state because of our mental models and insecurities.

For instance, there is one camp that fervently believes that true leaders are born. You either have it genetically or you don’t. Another camp argues vehemently that anyone can be a leader. How do you bridge such a divide when two opposing sides are entrenched in their beliefs? It’s a reminder  of the huge gap between the Republicans and the Democrats over such issues as fiscal policy and healthcare.

Now that social media is in full gear, the blogosphere is saturated with blogs on every conceivable subject. It would be fascinating to get in a time machine and race 10 years into the future to get a look at how we’re using information technology and specifically social media. We’re so inundated with information now that unless we figure out how to expand the use of our brains we’re going to be in big trouble, turning into drooling idiots staring at tablet screens, with no idea of what we’re reading and no attention spans.

And will we be any further along trying to understand the field of leadership and management?

A suggestion is to take some down time periodically to reflect on what you’ve been absorbing through the multitude of information sources you’re subjected to each day. Learn how to sift through the crap and the unimportant. Subscribe to only truly value-added blogs, e-newsletters, and podcasts. But ensure that what you’re reading also challenges your established assumptions and beliefs. And engage in new activities that stretch your learning, whether at work, at home or in your community.

Are you ready to take the plunge?

I find the question ‘Why are we here?’ typically human. I’d suggest ‘Are we here?’ would be the more logical choice.
– (Mr. Spock, Star Trek)

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