Where to look for real leadership

There are plenty of people who will tell us how to be leaders... but are they the right ones to ask?

September 3, 2018

Plug the word 'leadership' into Amazon and it will point you in the direction of over 100,000titles on the subject. Walk through an airport and the bookshelves are lined with titles such as 'Leadership' by John C. Maxwell (at the less imaginative end of things) and 'Cage-busting Leadership' by Frederick M. Hess (taking his place at the more flaky end of the spectrum).  Evidently it is something we're all really interested in, but are we looking in the right places for our inspiration? I'm not even saying we should read more history or watch more reruns of Arnie films. In fact, now I think of it, Arnie films are probably more fertile sources than books if you're looking for tips on how leaders behave.             

At least when Schwarzenegger is on screen you know that he is definitely leading rather than managing. He doesn't seem to spend much time organising things, planning or co-ordinating, checking, strategising, studying his opponents, budgeting, or understanding his numbers. He does spend plenty of energy doing, saying motivational things, being out in front and generally moving the show on (yes, and of course shooting anything and everything that doesn't agree with his way of seeing things). Mr S isn't so much about the 'what', he's more about the 'how'. 

And yet what's most interesting isn't about how he behaves (you might not subscribe to his leadership methods?!) but where he got his style from. Both in reality and in his fictional roles, it seems that much of how he leads is home made. I don't expect the screenwriters nor the director had to give him many notes on how to come across with authority or charisma.  It's just the way he was when he turned up on set as a professional bodybuilder/actor wannabe. 

Authorities on leadership assume their position of authority by either doing leadership and becoming famous for how they have made things turn out in a company or on an expedition or sports team or through watching people do it and then looking for those golden tips and tricks that made the people succeed. The point is, the learning is always after the event which makes me wonder why we can't just shape our own leadership philosophy based upon what we do and say. The mistakes we have made. Upon our own successes.

When my colleagues and I embark on leadership development projects in organisations we don't plug in an externally generated philosophy (and there are some very good ones) but through observation and  research we find out what brilliance already exists amongst the people we are meeting each day on the project. 

Why? Well, the very people we typically look to for their leadership example have got what they do, not from books or theories, but from within themselves. So we look to the people who we have been hired to develop. In this way, I think we can and should look into ourselves to decipher who we are as leaders… why look any further?

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