The Leadership Deficit

Leadership is one of those areas that has been studied to within an inch of its life, as though we can analyse it and reduce it to a set of replicable parts. But, unfortunately, in doing so, I think we have done the subject, and ourselves, a great disservice. We have killed the magic.

And there is a magic, an alchemical aspect, to leadership. It was described to me by someone for whom I had enormous respect when he said, “the heart of leadership is simple. You have to know what you are prepared to die for. Everything else is management.” While I accept that this is a simple description of a complex subject, it does cut to the chase.

There is a limit to the number of people we can lead. Leadership requires a visceral connection that builds and sustains trust and mutual recognition. In a small organisation, it might be possible for one person to lead, and common sense and science align when it comes to numbers. Even someone with the charisma, capability and communication skills of a paragon cant lead more than a hundred or so people. That’s why Romans has centurions at the heart of their organisation.
Leadership is a chain. A great leader inspires a handful of followers, who in turn become leaders with their own followers, and so on down to the lowest level of the organisation, or the furthest outpost of a movement. In the end, outstanding leadership is about intimacy. We may be inspired by a general, CEO, or a President, but they don’t lead us. The people who do are people we know.

I suggest we have such a leadership deficit right now. Those at the top of the organisation or country believe that they can lead large numbers of “followers” with the right communications strategy live a damaging fantasy. Unless there are have intermediate, committed followers who are also leaders, there is no chain, and if there is no chain, there is no leadership. The evidence is plain to see in most large organisations and our politics. Where we need intermediate leaders, we have managers. But, invaluable as they are, they rely on process and measurement as control, not the commitment and service and inspiration that is leadership.

This morning, I saw a comment on LinkedIn by the CEO of a large company who said, “we do not need more leaders, we need better leaders“.

I think he’s right; with a proviso. We need to pay far more attention to their distribution and diversity within the business.

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