Since I was a teenager I thought my destiny was to be a leader. I remember standing up and speaking at the school debating society when I was 14. All the other speakers were 17 or 18 so I was absolutely petrified. It wasn’t that I had anything particular to say. Mostly I mumbled and squeaked. I was just practicing public speaking, knowing that one day it would be a useful skill.
When I was 15 I used to hitchhike alone from London to Yugoslavia. The journey would take about 4-5 days. That’s similar to hitch hiking from Sydney to Perth or from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States. God knows what my parents were thinking.
Today there are hundreds of leadership courses so how come we don’t have astonishing leaders? There are standout individuals in every sector but overall our leadership is pretty average and there are plenty of examples of leadership which is stark raving bonkers.
As an example in the political arena we reward those leaders who can savage the other side most effectively. The more nasty the better apparently. To agree that your opponent has come up with a good idea is suicide.
Reflecting on my own journey I see two issues which have had a profound impact. I guess it doesn’t help that there is no commonly agreed definition of leadership and as many styles as personality types. The first is that leadership is if anything a role, not who I am. When I get identified with a role and think it is who I am then I do and say things to protect my leadership identity. I become fake. Do you agree that a mark of a leader is that they are genuinely authentic and have integrity as distinct from having a leadership ego?
The second is that I separate myself from those who I define as “followers”. After all who aspires to be a follower? Where are the training courses in how to follow? Where are the award nights for most outstanding follower? When did you last get a pay rise for being such a great follower? We have leadership but not followship. The word does not even exist in the English language. However we dress it up that we just want to help, we aspire to be leaders for personal gain, for wealth, power and prestige. To test this try not being a leader and see how it makes you feel.
I suspect that authentic leaders have the natural ability to coordinate, to synthesize and to orchestrate. They lead conversations not people. They don’t have a need to lead to feel good about themselves. They see their job as to create leaders, the more the merrier. I have had glimpses of that. But I don’t know. First I need to unlearn my ideas of leadership and then see what happens. First I need to switch from leadership as a noun to leadership as a verb. In the meanwhile I’m putting my hand up to be a follower. That will be a good start.
I must say it’s a relief.