The ability of the human mind to delude itself astounds me.
The degree to which we ignore reality, or worse, bend it to our preferences is a debilitating feature of a wholly unnatural state.
Nowhere is it more evident than when it comes to leadership.
Everywhere, and I mean absolutely everywhere you look in the reality of the environment that surrounds us — including other human beings — we notice HIERARCHY: Man — Predator — Reptile — Plant — Dust.
And within each element there is a hierarchy. Within the animal kingdom, we have the food chain as an age-old, accepted fact. Something or someone goes at the top and you work your way down the chain. Some gemstones are worth more than others. Some things are stronger, more beautiful and more precious.
We invented sport to celebrate the ranking of hierarchy. Five stars. Gold, Silver, Bronze. Miss Universe. IQ. Chairman. Dux. (My company is named after the ‘winner’ in a bull fight.)
We promote a faux egalitarianism. We live in a democracy, where every vote counts equally. Everyone is claimed to be ‘special’. Everyone is able. Even if everyone doesn’t win, everyone CAN win.
And most importantly, everyone can learn to be a better leader.
Seems to me that this does not conform with reality.
Leadership is an evolved trait — in response to environments. That means there is a natural scale to leadership ability. The natural status of things is challenged by leadership trainers who exploit our desire to grow with seductive but ultimately false promises.
They claim they have an ability to change your ability.
But is this possible?
Can you train a possum to be a wolf?
I am thinking this may be one of the biggest cons of our times.
When I look at the actual advice that aspiring leaders is given, it seems to me that the changes consultants and trainers promote, mostly relate to superficial, environmental and inconsequential changes you must make that creates the illusion of leadership. How you need to organise your diary. Or set an agenda. Or position your body. Or dress or diet like so.
Sometimes the advice appeals to an illusory ideal: be tough, be kind or be something — anything but acceptance of what you are now, because then I would not have an ongoing consulting gig.
Leaders emerge from their environment. For the tribe in survival mode it is the alpha figure. Under other circumstances, other leaders may emerge. That usually happens as a result of some faux rationality superimposed on the environment that happens — like being elected for having perceived skills or having made promises that appealed to the group’s self-interest.
The false belief that a leader can be made is a necessary preconception required to justify the entire leadership improvement complex. It is a myth we gladly buy, because who does not want to be more leader-like?
The reality is that the hierarchy is steep, there is only one top dog in every tribe, and aspire as much as you like, you have to kill the leader in order to take the top spot.
So we go about killing them, usually through subversion, rarely though a fair fight. The environment that leaders operate in has achieved a veneer of civilisation, designed to protect the weak and unequal.
Eventually, the weak wins: a pack of hyenas shred the once-strong lion, now disabled by convention and civility.
Maybe that is why companies fail at such an alarming rate: we refuse to acknowledge the natural order and survival that depends on having actual, strong leaders who are born to lead, and instead we have the insipid pretenders who win those positions because they made a set of rules to suit them.
(Maybe Nietzsche was right?)
When you look at the political leaders we have had (post-Howard) in Australia, I think the evidence is clearly in. People who get to the top are not necessarily suited to the top.
Sometimes I don’t even like the conclusion I come to in my own arguments, but it seems to be unavoidable outcome when you can’t change the facts of the matter. And in a time in the evolution of business and society when we need strong leaders, we need to take an honest look at who is leading the pack.
It is not so much a debate about whether leaders are born or made, it is about revealing the fraud that underpins the promise that a leader could be made.
Because humans have an innate desire to grow and improve (to better survive) we have accepted the myth of the made leader at the expense of the harmony and happiness that comes from knowing your place in the natural order.
Everybody is not a leader. Everyone can’t become a leader. The evidence is everywhere you care to look. If you were honest. If you have to question if you are a leader, and if you think you need more training to become a leader; you aren’t one. At least not a good one.