"We live in a world that romanticises crises. This gives rise to the false prophets, the smooth operators, the gangsters, and the demagogues who would have us believe that we need them to lead us through the crisis, to save us, to show us the way."
These are the words of Elizabeth Samet, Professor of English at West Point Military Academy in the United States, who cautions against the pervasive tendency to conflate leadership and crisis. She quotes John Adams (1735 – 1826), an American author, lawyer and the second President of the United States. All that time ago he cautioned against leaders who capitalise on difficult situations to have us believe that our destiny and salvation lies in their hands.
Adams wrote that the United States would not improve until people begin "to consider themselves as the fountain of power. They must be taught to reverence themselves, instead of adoring their servants, their generals, mirals, bishops, and statesmen."
The absence of self-reverence and self-leadership invites a worshipping of not only religious leaders and wartime or warmongering generals, presidents and electoral candidates, but, in the same vein, of so-called captains of industry and of the world’s wealthiest.
A legacy of authors, poets and playwrights – from Frantz Fanon to Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf – have, like Samet, commented on this through the decades, clearly distinguishing leaders from the misleaders. It is time for us to do the same.
The concept of misleaders is eloquently captured by Andre van Heerden in his book “Leaders or Misleaders, the art of leading like you mean it.” He believes the fault lies in our understanding of what leadership is really about. I think he is spot on.
Misleadership is underpinned by fear, lies, corruption and self-interest. Misleaders capitalise on crises and use this as a platform to get into power by promising all sorts of benefits that are never delivered.
Fewer than 10% of leaders today demonstrate the kind of leadership that we should be calling “good” or “effective”, let alone “true” or “great”, he asserts.
True leaders versus misleaders
True or great leadership is underpinned by a heartfelt need, in the first instance, to develop oneself, and in so doing to develop the wisdom, integrity, skills and capacity to help others. As Van Heerden puts it, true or great leadership is about "inspiring people to be the best they can be in mutual pursuit of a better life for all".
True or great leaders make a positive difference to people’s lives. They are committed to improving the lives of all people and improving the manner in which we care for the natural environment because this is what sustains us. A strong sense of our shared humanity underlies their actions and in the way they engage with people. They inspire people to be the best they can be, in mutual pursuit of a better life for all.
Misleaders are concerned about becoming the president, prime minister or CEO of a country or company, largely for egotistical, power-mongering reasons. They are all about making a financial fortune to elevate themselves and their cronies or shareholders above everyone else. Rather than acting in the best interest of the organisation, they view the entity as an instrument to serve their own self-interest. There is a distinct lack of acknowledgement of our shared humanity in their actions and in the way they engage with people. They spread fear and set different groups of people against each other.
Samet explains that we often confuse the crisis style of leadership with true leadership that promotes development and peace. True leadership is far more enduring than war-style leadership, and yet it doesn’t win medals or votes.
This is explained in an excellent piece by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker on February 29 2016, titled Shut Up And Sit Down. He refers to Donald Trump’s first official campaign TV advertisement:
"The ad features a procession of alarming images – the San Bernardino shooters, a crowd at passport control, the flag of Syria’s Al Nusra Front – designed to communicate the idea of a country under siege. But the ad does more than stoke fear; it also excites, because it suggests that we’ve arrived at a moment welcoming to the emergence of a strong and electrifying leader. (Trump, a voice-over explains, will “quickly cut the head off ISIS – and take their oil.”) By making America’s moment of crisis seem as big (or “huge”) as possible, Trump makes himself seem more consequential, too."
To conclude his piece, Rothman quotes Jacques Lacan, 20th century French psychoanalyst, psychiatrist and author who wrote "If a man who thinks he is a king is mad, a king who thinks he is a king is no less so."
Rothman went on to write: “A sense of perspective may be among the most critical leadership qualities. For better or worse, however, it’s the one we ask our leaders to hide.”
And then we wonder why the billions spent on leadership seminars aren’t producing better leaders.
About The Author
Owen Skae, Associate Professor and Director of Rhodes Business School, Rhodes University
- Michael J. Naughton
- Jonathan Reyes
Studio: Cluny Media LLC
Label: Cluny Media LLC
Publisher: Cluny Media LLC
Manufacturer: Cluny Media LLC
- David Gergen
- Knowing your authentic self
- Defining your values and leadership principles
- Understanding your motivations
- Building your support team
- Staying grounded by integrating all aspects of your life
True North offers an opportunity for anyone to transform their leadership path and become the authentic leader they were born to be.
Personal, original, and illuminating stories from Warren Bennis, Sir Adrian Cadbury, George Shultz (former U.S. secretary of state), Charles Schwab, John Whitehead (Cochairman, Goldman Sachs), Anne Mulcahy (CEO, Xerox), Howard Schultz (CEO, Starbucks), Dan Vasella (CEO, Novartis), John Brennan (Chairman, Vanguard), Carol Tome (CFO, Home Depot), Donna Dubinsky (CEO/cofounder, Palm), Alan Horn (President, Warner Brothers), Ann Moore (CEO, Time, Inc.) and many others illustrate the transitions that shape the type of leaders who will thrive in the 21st century.
Bill George (Cambridge, MA) has spent over 30 years in executive leadership positions at Litton, Honeywell, and Medtronic. As CEO of Medtronic, he built the company into the world’s leading medical technology company as its market capitalization increased from $1.1 billion to $60 billion. Since 2004, he has been a professor at the Harvard Business School. His 2004 book Authentic Leadership (0-7879-7528-1) was a BusinessWeek bestseller. Peter Sims (San Francisco, CA) established “Leadership Perspectives,” a course on leadership development at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and cofounded the London office of Summit Partners, a leading investment firm.
Their Web site is www.truenorthleaders.com.
- David Gergen
Discover Your True North is the best-selling leadership classic that enables you to become an authentic leader by discovering your True North. Originally based on first-person interviews with 125 leaders, this book instantly became a must-read business classic when it was introduced in 2007. Now expanded and updated to introduce 48 new leaders and new learning about authentic global leaders, this revisited classic includes more diverse, global, and contemporary leaders of all ages. New case studies include Warren Buffett, Indra Nooyi, Arianna Huffington, Jack Ma, Paul Polman, Mike Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg, and many others. Alongside these studies, former Medtronic CEO Bill George continues to share his personal stories and his wisdom by describing how you can become the leader you want to be, with helpful exercises included throughout the book.
Being a leader is about much more than title and management skills—it's fundamentally a question of who we are as human beings. Discover Your True North offers a concrete and comprehensive program for becoming an authentic leader, and shows how to chart your path to leadership success.
Once you discover the purpose of your leadership, you'll find the true leader inside you. This book shows you how to use your natural leadership abilities to inspire and empower others to excellence in today's complex global world. Discover Your True North enables you to become the leader you were born to be, and stay on track of your True North.