Many finer minds than mine have written on leadership, and if I search the internet, I will find millions of references to books, articles, blogs and any other publication you can name. These publications all focus on:
- Stories of great leaders past and present
- Qualities and characteristics of great leaders
- Secrets of great leaders
- Strategies, steps and actions, one must take to be a great leader.
The literature appears infinite in the number of windows through which one might view leadership.
There are Institutes, Centres, Professional Bodies, Universities all with leadership as a focus. They all have researchers, publications, and positions on what leadership is and the practice of leadership.
The Armed Forces have researched and developed Leadership programs over decades. In fact, my understanding is they lead the field concerning Leadership Research and Training.
There are Great Person theories – there are charismatic theories, and there is a myriad of “styles”:
- The Leader – Manager
- Leading with Courage
- Leading with Soul
- Leading Consciously
- Mindful leadership
- Authentic leadership
- Servant leadership
- Situational Leadership
There are political leaders, business leaders, religious leaders, leaders of great sporting teams.
There are great names from history which we associate with leadership ranging from:
- Marcus Aurelius
- Attila the Hun
- Alexander the Great
- Mother Theresa
It is intimidating to put pen to paper in this world where we appear to have so much to say. We seem to know so much, and we have so much access to information and wisdom, and there is so much education What is happening in our society when:
- in Australia, we have had four Prime Ministers in 10 years and
- in the US, we have Donald Trump as President (not a typical leader!)
- The GFC was a leadership failure
- The recent revelations in Catholic church highlight serious flaws
Whatever criteria we choose, it is hard to see “great leadership” in action at any level in our society. I am not saying it is not there, but I am saying it is hard to see. What we do see is an ocean of chaos, a mountain of bravado, and a media system preoccupied with entertainment, gossip, and minutia with all manner of speculation and opinion. Most of it is filling a voracious medium.
For a minute, I want to reflect on how we learn about leadership.
My hypothesis is we first learn about it in our families. Boys and girls learn about it from their parents. The most powerful and formative learning in our lives starts in our families. Both the positive learning and the “BAD” learning. We learn the basics, from our most basic physical needs to:
- The great virtues
- Our core values and beliefs
- Our sense of spirituality
- Our worldview about everything – whether the world is fair and just?
- How to behave in every circumstance from basic manners to just respecting other people
All of this learning occurs through a process of “living together.” In the jargon, it might be called “experiential learning.” It might occur from watching, (modeling), listening, (storytelling), experience, (experimentation). There might even be some discipline (behaviour modification). In all of this living together relationships are formed, reflection occurs and over an extended time “little people” emerge from the great learning system of life – the family. For those who through no fault of their own do not have the opportunity of living in a family – this learning comes from the early communities who provide care and support.
When I consider my journey I wonder? What did I learn in my own family of origin? Was I able to distill a “leadership” philosophy or a set of principles which allowed me to be a leader? Did I encourage my children to develop their leadership potential? Do I and did I set the bar high enough?
In my family of origin, much was expected! There were some principles at the heart of my family learning. They centred on FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE.
From those virtues, there was all manner of principles and standards. Too many to name but four stand out:
- Respect for yourself and for everyone – no matter who they are.
- To stand for something – Having values and principles that are not negotiable.
- To fight for what you believe in
- Doing your best is important
I could tell many stories with these as a theme.
Each person can do the same. In fact, in every conversation we have about leadership we reflect many of those early learnings!
In an article ‘ ‘Leaders Develop Slowly in A Series of Stages‘ Tandon discussed the development of leaders. Their model highlighted four stages:
- Personal productivity – First is learning to manage themselves and manage their time and priorities.
- Personal leadership – learning to lead themselves. This means developing a personal mission, clarifying their values, creating a productive work-life balance, and building a trustworthy character. We call this personal leadership.
- Motivational leadership – the ability to lead, engage, empower, coach and motivate others.
- Strategic leadership- being able to lead an entire organization to success.
What is interesting is a comment “it is like maturing as a person, you can’t skip a step.”
So, what happens when leaders do skip a step or are they are elected or appointed beyond their stage of development? What happens when leaders don’t mature through the stages as programmed? We know from various lived examples that not all leaders are equal in capability. Not all leaders have the opportunity to progress through an orderly and structured development program. What is available to them? What they learned in their family, what they have learned from significant others in their lives as they progress through the “school of life.” What happens when in the maturation process they either skip a step or freeze in a stage for some reason?
One of the great problems in our world is that we see leadership as something which is the province or the gift of others. We see it as someone else’s responsibility. We are predisposed to sitting back and offering all manner of advice even criticising and condemning those who are appointed or elected to lead. Certainly, in Australia, we have developed it into an art form. Based on my observations many other democratic countries have the same problem. We have created a whole generation of armchair “opinionists” – little substance –all opinion. Mostly they reflect our frustration and our ignorance. In reality, they produce more frustration and more ignorance. We substitute opinion for fact!
In Australia, the vultures are out again to see if we can make it 5 Prime Ministers in 10 years. What is this phenomenon? – Is it the media? Is it us? Is it possible our politicians are a reflection of us? Is it possible that with all the education and training in the art and science of leadership the standard will lift?
Is the answer that given the current social media milieu and the 24/7 news cycle it is impossible to lead?
When leadership is reduced to 24-hour media cycles, media bites, twitter entertainment, and 24/7 ‘gotcha’ moments is there any hope?
Will it ever be possible in Australia to have a genuine conversation about substantive issues or are we now so limited, short-sighted and ideologically driven that our debates are like small children? We are reduced to name calling and stubbornly protecting our positions.
It is extraordinary in a country like Australia that there are suggestions we cannot have a national debate over an issue because a grouping might be offended.
Maybe if we all took some responsibility to be informed, behave responsibly and lead, Australia would emerge a more prosperous and mature country. The current malaise with “stifling” political correctness and a search for a messianic leader/s is crippling our psyche.
Australia is a world leader in many areas, BUT we are slipping backward slowly on many levels.
Is continuing search for a “new” leader the answer?