Today, we’re talking about leadership, and I’m going to start with something a little bit esoteric. The reason for this is I think it’s important to understand that leadership isn’t a fad, or a simply modern concern: human beings have always been concerned with leadership, and perhaps always will be!
We can see examples of this from many ancient texts from Gilgamesh to the Egyptian Pharoahs and through to the Greeks, from whom we get our word ‘strategy’. A ‘strategos’ in Greek was a military general or commander-in-chief– a leader! And in the Old Testament we have Moses. Before Moses emerges from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, the mountain itself is enveloped with lightning, cloud, and flame. The Israelites are stunned by this cataclysmic display of power and majesty. Then, Moses delivers the commandments from God.
One would think, given the potency of this supernatural occurrence, an entire mountain being wreathed in unnatural flames, lightning storms, cloud, and smoke, that the commandments would have impressed very deeply upon the Israelites and that they would have done God’s bidding to the letter. However, human nature is a fickle thing, and before long the Israelites are doing exactly what they have been forbidden from doing: worshipping a golden ox.
We are naturally attracted to that which glitters, aka gold! But whilst gold is very beautiful, it is only useful in very specific circumstances. This is the same in leadership. We may be drawn to charismatic “celebrity”-type personalities, we may wish to find a new guru to worship, but charisma does not always constitute brilliant leadership.
It seems that it is human nature—a deep part of us—to make gods out of all kinds of things, from the rather obvious money and status, to the subtler forms of idolatry, such as the way we elevate celebrities and personalities to godlike levels. We take a person who is perfectly human and fallible, and esteem that they can do no wrong. In Japan, they actively use the English word “idol” to describe their pop singers. This is why celebrity scandals seem to rock the world - whereas in fact, it should be highly predictable to all of us that those with power and money are often likely to use it, and not always for selfless aims. We are all human.
According to Gallup, “less than 2 in 10 employees agree that the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. Less than 2 in 10 employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization makes them feel enthusiastic about the future. Less than one quarter of employees strongly agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.” Despite the abundance of data and research over the last 60 years, there is clearly a leadership crisis on our hands! How can we fix it? Well, first, we have to examine the nature of the problem.
First, researchers often ask the wrong people about leadership. Rarely do they question staff about what they want in a leader. Instead, we keep interviewing the CEOs, CFOs, Directors, and other people largely disconnected from the “view on the ground” or the day-to-day mechanics of keeping a business alive and thriving.
Secondly, as we mentioned earlier, human nature has a tendency to be drawn, like moths to a flame, towards the bright, shining personalities we see on TV: actors, sportspeople, musicians, etc. Not to take away from their talent, but we have to question what these individuals can really tell us about the everyday leadership that will keep a business running, or a team of employees highly motivated. This is not to say we cannot pick up valuable insights from people such as Ernest Shackleton, the incredible explorer who brought back his team from the brink of icy death, football coach Jürgen Klopp, or gurus such as Brian Tracy. However, their situations are so different from most managers’ that we have to take the essence of what they’re saying and find relevant and practical ways to apply it.
A fourth and final problem is that these charismatic role models are almost exclusively male. Yet studies frequently rate female managers more highly than their male counterparts!
What we need is a leader who has a practical and diverse toolkit for motivating their teams. I have avoided using the word “inspire” because whilst I love the word—especially its root in the Greek which means, quite literally, to “breathe life into”—this word, to me, represents a more rare and cosmic level of “lightning strike” epiphany, not the energy and fuel that we need day-to-day! The Motivational Map (https://www.motivationalmaps.com ), of course, is one such tool. The 5 Elements (https://www.5elementscommunication.com) is another. However, the important thing is that leaders are prepared to “tend their flock” day in and day out. They don’t believe that one heroic speech will see their people to the Promised Land. They understand – as Moses clearly did - that leadership is a daily practice, and sometimes arduous, beset with adversity both without and more importantly within. Having said that, let me be clear on one final point: becoming a great leader can also be one of the most rewarding things you could ever do!