Is There a Crisis of Leadership?

Is there a leadership crisis

Is there a difference between great leaders and good leaders?

Is there a leadership crisis? It only takes a quick scan of the media to see that some of the ‘great’ leaders of the world are deeply flawed. There are countless examples of politicians whose integrity is being questioned or business leaders who have pursued profit at the expense of everything else. 

Yet these leaders have risen to prominence in our society. They could be defined as great, even effective in some ways, but are they actually good? And if they are not good, how have they risen so high?

The crisis of leadership 

There have been plenty of scandals (such as the banking scandals of the early 2000s) that have uncovered poor leadership and shown that many people in high positions are not serving others effectively.

What has gone wrong? Is it that our individualist culture has undermined positive models of leadership such as servant leadership? Are we too self-serving? If so, this is not just an institutional challenge, or a professional issue, it is a cultural problem. 

But, before we go further, what do we actually mean by leadership? Is this just the preserve of the rich and powerful, or for the heads of corporations and states?

How do we define leadership? 

There are plenty of convoluted definitions of leadership, but leadership is probably most simply defined as influence. This is certainly my favourite definition, and one championed by the leadership expert John C Maxwell (author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership).

Why is this important? Because, we are all influencers, to some degree, and in turn, we are influenced by others. That is why we should all care about leadership; it affects us all.

We often forget this – and this can be dangerous – as demonstrated by the author David Foster Wallace, in his parable the ‘Infinite Jest’. If we become passive consumers of other people’s influence (and particularly the influence of the media) we give up our gift, and responsibility, to shape culture for the better.

Leadership is influence but being a leader is taking responsibility for change. We need to be conscious of our own leadership and then have a plan for the change we want. 

Great leaders or good leaders?

Jim Collins, in his excellent book ‘Good to Great’ talks about how for organisations the “good can be the enemy of the great”. In other words, by doing some things well we can often miss the opportunity to be truly great at something.

But in leadership terms, the great can often be the enemy of the good. Leaders might be great in terms of power and influence, but they may not use that influence for good. These leaders bring about change, but arguably, this change is not positive in the long term.

This type of leadership, embodied by the ‘Great Man’ theory of leadership, is narrow and frequently harmful. So, what does a good leader look like?

Not surprisingly, there are lots of different views on what makes a good leader; the values they should embody and the skills they need to have. For a very contemporary take on this take a look at Umair Haque’s excellent post:

How can we address the crisis in leadership?

The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote and spoke a lot about the importance of meaning and purpose in society, and our responsibility to contribute positively. 

In his excellent TED talk, he examines our culture and politics in the West and points out that the ‘selfie’ is an example of how we worship the individual in our culture. The anti-dote to this self-obsessed culture is living for something bigger than ourselves.

We can all bring more hope and positivity. The question is working out what that larger, positive, thing is that we are motivated by.

Even if you just want to improve your own life this is an important principle. Darren Brown (mentalist and illusionist) has demonstrated in his televised experiments the dangers of negativity. If you are in a negative mindset then you miss the good things; you are actually making yourself unhappy.

Therefore, seek the good – be positive – in your context and with your influence. Few of us have responsibilities for whole states or organisations but all have responsibility for caring for the people around us.

As young Scouts are taught, do a good turn every day. Making little positive changes to our world, within our sphere of influence, is the starting place of a leader.

“It may not change the world, but it might change my world.” 

Andy Tilsley

Our ability to contribute and influence 

We all have a part to play no matter how small. This is summed up in the wisdom of Mother Teresa:

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa talked about looking out for the next one, the next person or step; concentrating on that, not the thousands. She focussed on the small things, but in this way, she was able to have a huge positive influence. 

Positive change is about getting our hands dirty, in the here and now, with the people around us who need help.

How do we find our purpose?

So where do we start in exploring our life’s purpose? In my experience I recommend people start with the question ‘why?’ (Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why is a great resource.) Asking ‘why’ helps us to understand our values, principles, priorities and passions in life. It’s a good first step.

If you want some ideas on answering this question, then take a look at my post on how to ‘What are your personal values?’

Starting on an adventure and finding your call is not easy. The challenge – the opportunity cost – when starting out, can be paralysing. We can fear that we are losing out on something else when we make a choice or pursue a dream.

But whatever we think we are missing out on now, that is nothing compared to what we could be losing longer term. This is (going back to what Jim Collins says) the good can be the enemy of the great.

So how do you start? 

Take the first step. Do one small thing to make your world a better place today.

Want to find out more?

If you want to hear more on this topic then check out my podcast and conversation with Andy Tilsley. We discuss the crisis of leadership and how we can start on our journey to meaning and being good leaders.

The Right Questions Podcast Episode 2:

“Is There a Crisis in Leadership”

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