Real Leaders

I’m Done With “Leadership.” Here’s a Better Idea

I’ve been talking about leadership for the past 15 years. I’ve thought about it, analyzed it, read about it, played its games, taught it and written loads about it. Now I’m done. I’ve started talking about personal growth instead. But why?

Basically, the science of leadership is one huge, global, mumbo-jumbo of obvious facts and myths that nobody lives up to. There are too many examples of leaders in todays society who are incomplete, partial, and all too often, shamelessly corrupt. It seems as if the qualities and habits we coaches and professors speak about escape many of our today’s leaders.

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The problem with the quest for leadership is that it has a defined goal: getting to the top. It’s become tempting to skip over some of the steps or avoid the many curves in the road on the way. It’s easy to be blinded by the drive to win. In a world full of frontiers and competitive barriers, where access to critical resources is blatantly unfair – let’s not forget that one percent of the world’s population holds over half the world’s wealth. It’s faster to trick your way to the top. Where’s the fun in this race if it’s rigged?

You can become a leader through a few convenient shortcuts: You could be born into a large family business and inherit the CEO’s position and control thousands of employees. You could marry into an aristocratic family or invest your entire childhood socializing with the big fish in your pond to gain an elite social position, without having any leadership instincts. You could make a ton of money overnight with new technology, or conquer million dollar magazine covers with saucy curves and pouty lips (inherited from your family). You could top the influence charts just because you found oil in your backyard. And of course, there’s also the all shady routes we could discuss too.

Personal growth, on the other hand, has no explicit target or result. There is no mark to achieve and brag about, and hardly any peer recognition on which to feed. Growing as a person isn’t a race against anyone. It’s a struggle against yourself. It’s never about winning. If anything, it’s about the courage it takes to lose, and stay lost while others look down on you.

Ironically, those who invest in their personal growth end up displaying all the traits we admire in ideal leaders: generosity, integrity, self-sacrifice, an absence of selfish or egotistic behavior, simplicity, wisdom, inspirational speech and great emotional grounding in the face of adversity. To these few individuals, leadership is an act of love and sacrifice for the well-being of others, rather than a chance to shine on the podium of popularity.

Is it still enough to merely be a leader? Is it more about being the best person you can be? Is it enough to make lots of money? Or is it more about serving a more significant purpose that transcends your little self?

But, who cares what I think? It’s ultimately your choice. What do you want your life to be about – leadership only, or about the personal growth you inspired in others by growing yourself?

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