The most popular piece I authored last year was a column I wrote for Forbes on the art and science of what I refer to as pursuitology. As of this writing it had been read more than 260,000 times, had more than 5,000 Facebook shares, and more than 3,000 ReTweets – it clearly struck a chord with the leadership community. As I thought about why this short article resonated so strongly with readers, it occurred to me I had awakened people to a simple, yet very powerful realization…
The realization is this – many of today’s leaders are suffering from an identity crisis. The magnitude of this crisis can range from a distorted, diluted, destructive, and in some cases deranged form of what they inaccurately define as leadership. Society has allowed the practice of leadership to be commoditized, which has made it all too common for non-leaders to assume leadership positions thus continuing the devolution of leadership as a practice.
When we devalue the worth of leadership, it only follows many people will in turn devalue their worth as a leader. Many leaders today simply do not understand what leadership is, which is precisely why we find ourselves in a crisis of leadership. I would suggest much of what we view today being represented as leadership is actually unleadership – a cheap imitation of the real thing by those who are role playing, but clearly are not leading.
The following is an excerpt from my book Leadership Matters: “…Why does all this matter? Because leadership matters – whether through malice or naiveté, those who trivialize the value of leadership place us all at risk. Poor leadership cripples businesses, ruins economies, destroys families, loses wars, and can bring the demise of nations. The demand for true leaders has never been greater – when society misunderstands the importance of leadership, and when the world inappropriately labels non-leaders as leaders we are all worse for the wear.”
When leaders become lost and confused, it doesn’t just impact them – it creates a ripple effect through an organization with a destructive force much more closely resembling a tsunami. Leadership isn’t about maximizing a W-2, and it’s not about personal glory or media attention. Put simply, true leadership isn’t about the leader.
Leadership is more than a title; it’s a privilege and therefore a burden of the highest responsibility. Nothing is more dangerous than a leader who loses sight of their real purpose – to serve something greater than themselves. Leadership is about qualities that recognize others while bringing out the best in them. Leadership cannot flourish with small minds, thinking about small things, in small ways.
So, what is real leadership? Leadership is about giving credit not taking it, breaking down barriers not building them, destroying bureaucracies not creating them, bridging positional and philosophical gaps not setting boundaries, thinking big and acting bigger, being able to focus on short-term objectives without losing sight of long-term value, not focusing on the volume of outputs but the impact of said outputs, surrender not control, and most of all, leadership is about truly caring for those whom you serve.
My challenge to those “playing leadership” is to abandon the practice of unleadership. I encourage you to stop contributing to the crisis of leadership and instead begin contributing to a culture of leadership. Invest in your development, build into others, don’t tolerate the status quo, and inspire greatness. When it comes to leadership, it’s not enough to be all you can be, you must focus on helping others become all that they can be.