Thursday, September 25, 2014

Where have all the leaders gone?
Where have all the leaders gone, long time passing?

Where have all the leaders gone, long time ago?
Where have all the leaders gone?
Young folks pick them, every one
When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?
[apologies to Pete Seeger]

Leadership is a lost art today. Where did it go? Our leaders have morphed into managers. Rather than defeat terrorists, we manage them. Rather than lead a nation we manage a nation. Rather than Generals leading their troops, they manage a war.
In ancient days, kings went out in front of their armies as the battle was joined.  In front of their men they got a clear view of the goal and a feel for the cost of victory. In that position, they would be vulnerable to the slings and arrows of the opposing forces. The soldiers loved it because their hero and leader was by their side. They readily followed their leader. Of course there was a huge risk to the king, but a triumphant victory was worth taking the risk. For the leader, the material rewards of gold and land were valuable, but the intrinsic reward of personal achievement was even more important.
As time passed, kings began to believe survival was more important than material rewards and personal satisfaction. So they became managers and sent others in their place. Generals now led the troops into battle and gained self actualization. But soon the generals decided it would be safer to manage and survive. And so it went.
Leadership, throughout history, has been a risky business. Leaders stand out. They have a big target on their back. You do not have to guess who are leaders, they are the ones others are following. You can repeatedly say you are a leader, but if you look behind you and there is no one to be seen, you are not leading. Leading from behind is not leading, it is at best managing, or just following.
While living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we went crabbing on the local pier. A smelly chicken wing in an old crab pot would trap a few crabs in about ten minutes. The catch was put into a bucket as we dropped the baited pot for another load. A lid on the crab bucket was not necessary. When you have more than one crab in the bucket, the crabs won’t escape. If one tries to crawl out of the bucket, the others reach up with their claws and pull him back into the bucket. Crabs will always pull others down to their level. Eventually the brave crabs will forget their desire to climb above the other crabs and settle down and “just get along,” and be ordinary.
Most people give up after the crabs keep pulling them down to their level and we learn to live with mediocrity. We play it safe and try to manage instead of leading. Leadership becomes a bad thing.

The transition from leading to managing has impacted our entire society. In business managers today's bottom line becomes an idol, reducing long term planning and research and development. As a result our nations creativity has fallen victim to the managers. Quality has been replaced by quantity and shoddy products. Just do enough to get by. In our schools grades become less important because someone might try to lead and get a higher rank over another. In kids sports, everyone gets a trophy whether they were deserving or not. 

Mediocrity has taken over and is greatly over-rated. In giving everyone extrinsic rewards, we have done away with the intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastering a skill, and/or getting a hard earned  victory. 

In the political arena the emphasis is no longer on individual leadership but on keeping the party in power. Leaders are pulled down to the common level by the rest of the crabs in the bucket. We become Borglike and as we are assimilated.

Presidents and kings today, sitting in their war rooms push a button and a drone attacks. How can the highest official do anything but manage. He cannot feel the heat of battle, he no longer knows his troops, he no longer takes personal risks. And at the end of the battle, he can not take any pride at personal accomplishment.

I do not propose that presidents pick up rifles and lead the troops into battle. What I do propose is that we begin to encourage individual initiative, creative leadership, and a purpose beyond ourselves. Encourage people to take risks. The rewards are still out there.

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