The Siren Call Of Leadership
There have been libraries of books written about leadership. It seems we are always looking for a key of some kind that helps us be and find better leaders. Authors and experts are happy to oblige. I’ve read many of those books and even written a few. The subject fascinates me.
All my study and experience has spawned a lot of questions for me about leadership. For example, how much of leadership is nature? You know what I am talking about, right? That innate charisma, the willingness to step up and step out. When others are only hoping a leader shows up, these people step out of the crowd and take over. As Barack Obama said during the 2008 presidential campaign, it takes a certain amount of megalomania to say that you think you should be the leader of the free world. No kidding.
So, how do you train that? Or can you?
Who showed Martin Luther King how to peacefully fight for justice and inspire others to follow despite the dangers? Did he go to leadership school? Or, was it already there, waiting to blossom at just the right time and with exactly what was needed? If we had met him as a young man would we have recognized his greatness?
I remember when John Kennedy declared that we were going to the moon. “Not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.” Think about that for a minute. We had never done anything like this before. Looking back at the available technology to pull it off it seems like a crazy idea. But he said we could do it. And, we did. That was bold and daring, wasn’t it?
The great leaders that we admire are always inclusive. We often mention Kennedy and MLK in the same breath, but their styles were very different. Yet, they found their own unique way to get it done. And they made us believe that we could do it. In fact, they convinced us that we were all a critical part of the mission, so that we could rejoice as if we had thought of it ourselves. I think that’s why there was such unbridled joy when Neil Armstrong said, “This is one small step for man, but a giant leap for mankind.” He was talking about all of us. That’s what we heard, anyway. That’s the magic of great leadership.
Through the years I have had the privilege of working with those kinds of transformational leaders. The air virtually crackles with positive energy when they speak and even their demeanor lifts those around them.
Yes, I have a lot of questions about leadership. I’ll spend the rest of my life getting to the bottom of it and figuring it out as best I can. But there are some things I am sure of. For one thing, leadership is not a position. Yes, some people can grow into the mantle that is placed upon them, but for greatness to happen there has to be at least a spark somewhere inside their souls that flickers to life when they assume the difficult roles that others choose to ignore or walk away from.
I also know that leadership is a lot of work. You become visible and visible people take a lot of slings and arrows, especially these days with social media mobs. Everybody has an opinion about what you should have done and they are happy to share it with you, even if it is unsolicited, which it usually is.
But despite all of that, leaders keep showing up and they keep leading. They take the slings and arrows. The best of them even make it look easy.
And, there doesn’t seem to be one template though, Lord knows, we try to find one. Introverts can build great companies and enviable cultures. Extroverts can, too. Great leaders come from the best schools and some come from the school of hard knocks. The poorest of the poor have led great revolutions and the richest among us have too.
Somewhere in all my questions and musings on the subject I have found just one common thread: Leaders have to respond when they hear the call to leadership. They cannot stand by and do nothing. And, in that moment, an amazing thing happens. They begin to find the way forward for the rest of us.