How did we get here?

It would seem to me that not too long ago, say 50 years or so, the concepts of formal Leadership and what that entails, were mostly uncommon in mainstream publications. As a concept, Management was just beginning to take a strong root in the Western world, but Leadership was still this vague, enigmatic concept that appeared in Military conversations and usually with high levels of respect and aspiration. This aspiration began to leak out of Military circles and into boardrooms and organizations that wanted to lean into the evangelical power that a charismatic leader can cultivate. Pretty soon the formal concept of Leadership and the constructs that make up its being – began to be crystallized and discussed. Books were being written and conferences held to discuss the subject of Leadership. Its popularity exploded because anyone at the front of a tribe or pack, wanted to be referred to in the same reverential tones as those exceptional military leaders. To do that, we had to learn to do what they do, say what they say, think like they think. So we came with notebooks and recorders and hung on every word said and we implemented the strategies and concepts they espoused.

Now, half a century later, those discussions and Conferences have become incredibly popular. In fact so much so, that what used to be a conference on the precepts of Leadership alone, has now morphed into a larger conversation. The irony of this evolution though, is that it is shifting the Western mindset about what Leadership is. It is expanding the definition of Leadership and if we are not careful, Leadership could loose the accuracy it depends on for accomplishment and become synonymous with all things ‘cool and at the front of the pack’… A very vague position – to be sure.

What is Leadership exactly?

Here’s where I think the irony is. Inherent in the founding concepts of leadership is the premise that there are a bunch of people following you. You are leading them. You cannot be a leader, if there are no followers. Furthermore, these followers are not simply along for the ride. They not disciples, they are followers – thereby implying that there is a destination or outcome they are in pursuit of. Its a finite destination and is therefore also measurable and definite. They typically have been tasked with an objective and need help from you to get there. In the process of leading them you may have come to discover that perhaps a little more help or a few more tools in your Leadership bag, could really help you get them from here… to there. After all isn’t Leadership essentially; helping a group of people get from here to there? (Thank you Bill Hybels) But if the tools you go to a Leadership conference to get, end up being very broad and undefined. If they are about cool marketing principles and creativity and new technologies, then have you really been helped in your quest to lead? Please understand, I am not at all against being inspired and learning all about the new and improved ways to make a widget or be creative, but perhaps we could find an acceptable term for that kind of conference or book or person and separate it from the methods that help me more effectively move people from here to there.

Leadership is not a destination.

My second rant is that Leadership is not a destination. Our Western obsession with knowledge and more, and the popularity of inspiring conferences has blossomed the Leadership concept into this all encompassing movement of all things cool and new. As a result droves of people show up to these things as consumers, sipping their designer coffees and expectantly waiting to be regaled with amusing tales and witty anecdotes of Leadership/Innovative/New technology/Shiny-ball genius. And they get it. Then, in classic consumer fashion, they leave suitably fed and look for the next one. This habit, multiplied en-mass is perpetuating a perspective that causes new comers to be taught that Leadership is an end to itself. Get as much of it as you can. Get a degree in it. Go to conferences for it. Buy the books about it and participate in blogs discussing it. And when I stop you in the street to ask what you are so feverishly amassing all this knowledge and experience for, will I find there is a crowd following you – for which you need these tools? Or are we simply consuming all things Leadership, because that is what Socraticly influenced Westerners do in our pursuit of more?

There. I feel better now. Anyone know where the next Leadership Conference is?