Leadership literature is rubbish. I know this because I’m friendly with many of those authors, and they approach the concept of leadership as an elusive, dichotomous quality: either you got it, or you don’t.
The first problem with the discussion around leadership is that it’s rooted in a masculine, fatherly framework. The best leaders don’t have to be dudes, but they have to be calm and commanding. They are smart and self-actualized. They help colleagues and peers overcome their inner weaknesses by generously teaching, leading and showing others the path to success.
I think that sounds awesome, but it also sounds like the dad from Growing Pains. The actor, Alan Thicke, is the real-life father of a coke addict who sang Blurred Lines and openly stole Marvin Gaye’s beat. So much for leadership!
The problem with creating a fatherly, god-like leader is that — while we are made in his image — we can never be him, and we can never satisfy him. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and forgiving to a fault. However, there is a gap between the leader and the flock because those of us who aren’t the leader can’t climb the ladder and become infallible.
You’re either born with this quality or you’re not.
The second fallacy of leadership literature is that a leader can help you weather a storm. No matter what the problem — from a downed power line in Paducah to a logistics issue in the Phillipenes — the leader of an organization can manage a crisis. He has a way of maneuvering through the battle with efficiency and ease.
Historically, many militaries have excluded women and members of the LGBTQ community. And, in almost all civilizations, the leadership of the military comes from one socioeconomic class (privileged, educated) while the do-ers come from another (workers). This leadership framework is so flawed that it discriminates before we begin to apply it to our modern workforce.
If you use the militaristic framework to describe leadership, you make careless assumptions about how the world of business operates. There’s a person in charge, there is a chain of command, and the rank-and-file members of the company are people who, through a boot-camp-like atmosphere, have had their egos stripped away and rebuilt to coalesce around a common cause: victory.
Does that sound like the real way business works? I don’t know anyone who works on the line for Taco Bell or Target who would fight and die for the singular cause of winning the war for Black Friday. Try leading your shift manager to victory with this leadership fallacy, and you will probably suffer 130% annual turnover.
The final flawed leadership persona is the guru who has seen it all and wants to help you hack your way to personal success. Think about the guy with the broke-ass family story who now owns an empire. Consider the dude who hunkered down, hustled and is ready to tell you his secrets. And there’s the woman who weighed 300 pounds and wants to help you shred your waistline.
Those gurus are always nuts. We know this. But they tell us —
Hey, moron! You can’t be a better version of yourself unless you dig deeper. And while scientifically valid help that is covered under the mental health provision of your medical insurance plan is okay, it’s not enough. You need to hear it from someone’s who’s been there.
These gurus know that you are your worst enemy. They bank on it. Literally. From protein shakes to the power of positive psychology to bring you closer to your personal savior, they will show you the way.
And “the way” requires a debit or credit card.
You are a Leader
My leadership personae have one thing in common: an understanding that you are broken and need to be led to a greater version of yourself.
While all of us are flawed and broken, the baseline concept of leadership literature is that there are sixteen people in the world who qualify as leaders, and the rest of us are poseurs.
I just don’t think that’s true.
You manage to get up in the morning, brush your teeth and fight off the brutal and crushing assault of advertisers and marketers who want to separate you from your money. You pay your bills. You raise your kids to love animals and study for math quizzes. Despite what modern leadership literature tells you, you know it’s bad to exist on a slurry of sugar, fat, and salt. You are doing your best.
I see that. I know that.
The only person who can lead you to a better version of yourself is you. When you meet and connect with someone who has something helpful and useful to say, you’ll know it. The challenge is to open your eyes and your heart to your inner potential. Be ready to accept messages from the universe when signs or lessons present themselves in your path.
And stop buying into the concept that leadership looks like Hippe Jesus, General Patton or even A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. For every authority figure who promises you inner peace and confidence, another is trying to manipulate your free will for the greater good of shareholders and owners.