Saturday, March 17, 2007

Where have the great leaders gone?

Perusing the archives of those we have lost over the years past, we see recognizable examples of people who have made an impact on society. Actors, activists, sports celebrities, philanthropists, heads of state, educators and pioneers and names who have left a legacy that carries meaning to generation after generation.

In stark contrast, we have spent the last 3-4 years listening to headline after headline about the ‘new generation’ of the same group who are focussing less on carrying out meaning to others and more about elevating the status of themselves. As this is happening at the expense of others, it begs the question, where have all the great leaders gone?

Defining what makes a great leader may be the first step in re-educating a resurgence which, if started early, could change the direction of the future of society.

1. Unselfishness. Unselfishness is an attitude & mindset that serves as the foundation of every great leader. Over time, we have forgotten that the role of any leadership is to elevate the performances of others, not the self. Greed, pride and ego have greatly impacted the leadership ability to stand in the background while we push others into the spotlight. Interestingly, we ponder why teams and businesses don’t grow. Growth happens from the bottom up, not the top down.

2. Self-awareness. Great leaders are very aware of their influence through action as well as the spoken word. When we assume the role and subsequent rewards of a leadership position, we assume the responsibility of being the example for our team mates. Many lessons are taught and reinforced through example and if we succumb to the copout ‘do as I say and not as I do’, we instantly diminish the credibility of our leadership.

3. Education. Few great leaders seek the opportunity to re-invent themselves through continued education. As we evolve, coaching strategies and styles must also evolve to keep up with the dynamic nature of people and empowerment. When we reach the stale mate of implementing outdated styles, we reach the plateau of stagnant performance. Great leaders must work to stay ahead instead and abandon the ‘my way’ mentality in lieu of the best way.

4. Politics. Political conflict is perhaps the greatest irony of leadership. If we are electing someone to table new ideologies, motivate people towards self actualization and set the table for renewed growth throughout, they must be able to operate on their own agenda without being bullied, biased or influenced by others acting in self interest. We may think it is the leaders responsibility to stand up for this right, yet if we take a look at where leadership is started, youth we can see that charisma & individuality are being replaced with formalization and a pressure to conform. For a ‘free’ society, we certainly have many unwritten restrictions.

If the main reason we are hearing less about great leadership is because of societies shift towards marketing less about what we can do for others and more about what we can do for ourselves, it will take a combined effort (many levels, many institutions) to reverse this process.

There are thousands of documented examples of leadership done right, and it is those examples that need to be highlighted instead of consistently endorsing the athlete holding out for the big ticket, the c.e.o. cooking the books, or the child being punished for non conforming behaviour. As we continue to deplete the leadership pool, we will suffer the effects of standardization and stagnancy which will reach into all levels of our life.

We need more great leaders and each of us has the potential to start that process within ourselves.

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