Leadership – The Big Lie

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, I don’t think that the “idea” of leadership is a lie.  However, what passes for leadership is a lie.  As a matter of fact, I think many organizations or institutions don’t truly want leaders in their organization.  They want followers and doers.

Gifted leaders possess vision, tenacity, humility, honesty and flexibility.  Yes, historical examples of “leaders” that lacked these traits exist, but they merely support my thesis above.  Often, these “leaders” were in title only or brought out the worst in their followers.  Great historical leaders, while flawed, were far and few in between.  Historical leaders include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, and Mohandas Gandhi.  These people and their contributions will endure through the ages.

Other names will too, but they are far more complicated and not beloved by all.  For example, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolph Hitler, J Edgar Hoover, George Custer, …..  While they all had vision, tenacity and flexibility they lacked honesty and humility.  They often boldly charged into battle, but often for personal glory missing the greater opportunity because of concern for their own legacy.

Too many contemporary “leaders” seek to build their legacy versus building lasting institutions.  They seek to secure their spot in recorded history, but lack the humility and honesty to contribute to enduring institutions.  Few will rise to the historical success of Alexander the Great.  There just isn’t enough of the known world left to conquer.  However, it is totally within our grasp to contribute to something greater than ourselves.  True leadership does not always involve creating lasting institutions, monuments or even a side note in the historical record.  Striving to exemplify leadership traits to your children and those that admire you may be the lasting legacy you seek.  Legacies might be akin to karma.  You may not always have the satisfaction of witnessing karma in action, but be assured that like karma, your legacy will live on in the people you impact and engage along the way.

Strive to emulate the leadership traits of those that did not seek immortality, but instead sought out the opportunities to contribute to institutions greater than themselves.

 

 

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7 Surprising Reasons The West Won

Niall Ferguson lists 6 reasons western societies with 19% of global population controlled 75% of the world’s resources.  I think he missed one.

  1. Competition – Many corporations, similar to the City of London Corporation in the 12th Century, along other governments were competing with one another.  Think about the number of western European languages spoken around the world today due to colonization.
  2. The Scientific Revolution – while we all know gun powder came to Europe from China, it was the Europeans that continued to experiment with it and mash together multiple scientific disciplines in order to improve it.  Niall’s example is a German using Newtonian physics to improve the accuracy of bombs.
  3. Property Rights – I think this is probably one of the most fundamental rights in American history that contributed to stability and growth of the middle class.  Even the poorest could own property which might remain for generations.  Though, many injustices occurred over property disputes, those legal protections help the poorest prevail against the richest.
  4. Modern Medicine – ensuring people lived longer, healthier, and productive lives.  Imagine the additional productivity of one person by nearly doubling their life expectancy.  Just the simple act of surgeons washing their hands before getting elbow deep into another person’s abdomen probably saved a few million lives.
  5. The Consumer Society – Henry Ford paid much higher wages than other manufacturers at the time.  He wanted Ford employees to afford Model Ts which in turn kept demand high for his product.  For all the benefits of consumerism, there lurk many dangers as 2008 proved.  The rising middle class in China and India creates demand for high-end western luxuries, but desires in the west for those goods at ever cheaper prices led to the decline of manufacturing in the west.
  6. Work Ethic – Western society’s work ethic turned virgin soil into vast acres of corn, cotton, tobacco and grazing land.  Now the Native Americans that provided the seeds for tobacco and corn to the newcomers were equally (if not more) successful than Europeans at growing these crops.  The difference was profit versus subsistence.  It was the European demand for tobacco that encouraged a strong work ethic.  Niall uses the examples of North and South Korea along with East and West Germany.  The communist state produces markedly less quantity and quality than do non-communist states.
  7. Why? – I suppose you could lump this into the scientific revolution above, but really this is the ability to question authority, as well as, the desire to understand the reason an apple feels compelled to hurl itself toward earth.  The inalienable rights of mankind to desire freedom and reject tyranny led to asking why.  I think some of the basic tenets of Christianity contributed to this enlightened thought.  Even though Catholicism suppressed western society for centuries, once peasants demanded the right to read and interpret the bible for themselves, The Church’s strangle hold loosened forever.

Niall fears (as do I) that the rest of the world will quickly catch up and overtake western society, but it is not too late.  While governments are slow to react and bogged down in squabbles over Keynesian economics, we must act now to prepare our kids for challenges of the 21st century.  Mark Twain said, he never let his education get in the way of his learning.  Join me in teaching our children to be creative problem solvers that bravely seek answers to WHY.

Confident Women Built Here

Just days before my little girl joins our family I am thinking about how to ensure she becomes a future leader.  I just read Marshall Goldsmith’s blog post interviewing Girl Scouts former CEO Kathy Cloninger.

Marshall asks Kathy about the results of a study on the leadership aspirations of girls.  Most were ambivalent about the current command and control leadership most prevalent in our society.  A fact that most enlightened leaders already understand. Interestingly, most of the female business executives and business owners in the US (80%) are former Girl Scouts; as are more than 65% of the female members of the US Congress and Senate.  Clearly Girl Scouts are developing valuable leadership skills in young women.

What else can we do to help our young girls become confident strong leaders?

“Men Don’t Follow Titles, They Follow Courage”

This quote from Braveheart states a universal truth.  Without courage leadership does not exist.  In the absence of courage lesser men assume leadership positions because society becomes ambivalent.  William Wallace encourages through word and deed.  The deeds strengthen the words, as they do with most people.

The example of Wallace teaches us to lead from the middle.  When a lack of leadership exists at the top, this provides an opportunity for leaders to rise up to meet the challenge.  The names of these leaders may or may not be lost to history, but without their courage and sacrifice movements fizzle and fade.

It was my good fortune to visit Scotland a few years after the Braveheart movie debuted.  I went to Stirling Bridge and of course the nearby Wallace Monument (pictured below). An epic setting for an epic battle.  I was seeing that field beneath the monument with the visions of Hollywood battles in my head.  But, the Scottish feel that battle in their DNA.  Don’t make the mistake of comparing the Mel Gibson Hollywood version of William Wallace to the average Scott.  He will quickly correct you.

braveheart movie

“Wfm wallace monument” by Finlay McWalter – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wfm_wallace_monument.jpg#/media/File:Wfm_wallace_monument.jpg
Braveheart

My biggest take away from the story and the movie is, empower those around you to stand up in the face of adversity.  Many people often underestimate their influence over others.  With a little encouragement they will find their voice.  Even those endowed with titles, but seemingly lacking in courage, may yet discover their spine.  You may never know how your own examples of strength will impact others in the future.  Stay strong and encourage others at all levels to be the best leaders they can be.