Friday, December 2, 2011

Leadership: what a pity there's so little of it!

The other day I was asked for my views about political, business, and religious leadership both worldwide and in Australia. I replied that it was hard to find any - there is plenty of power and authority; there is plenty of command and control; there is plenty of talk - but precious little leadership.

Back in the mid 1990's I conducted a number of surveys in Australia, New Zealand, and South East Asia to ascertain who and why people considered to be leaders. I then interviewed 15 of these and the result was my book Leaders, Diamond or Cubic Zirconia? (1998). In the introduction to that book I make the comment "I am not making any judgement as to whether or not any or all [of those listed] are "diamonds or cubic zirconia". That is a conclusion that must be drawn by the reader."

Today I am far less circumspect. As said at the start - I see precious little leadership today no matter what is the arena in which I look for it.

Over the past 20 or so years we have seen flashes of political leadership - then Australian Prime Minister John Howard's response to the Port Arthur Massacre and his driving through of gun control and current Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's recent driving through of the pollution levy are good examples. But these flashes are few and far between. In the main we have the unedifying sight of political point scoring and power plays masquerading as "leadership". The party in power (whether in Australia or anywhere else) wants to remain in power and the opposition parties want to take over so anything goes no matter what is really best in the long term for the world, the country, or the populace.

Business, religious, social etc "leadership" is little different. Leadership in these areas seems to be primarily about numbers - market share, revenues, "value" etc (although these may actually be expressed through using one or another synonym) and in enhancing the personal and positional power and influence of those in charge. CEO's and executives seem to act as though they have forgotten that, in reality, they are every bit as much "employees" as are those in entry level positions. This is often seen by the seeking and accepting huge remuneration packages for themselves while fighting against remuneration increases for lower levels and/or otherwise taking action that adversely impacts the well-being and life quality of "employees". Most religious leaders, despite their words, seem to be far too often primarily concerned about narrow sectarian issues and show little or no real concern for refugees, the disadvantaged, and those outside of their immediate area of pastoral responsibility. And so I could continue.

Cubic zirconia abounds!

When I was researching for my latest book my surveys asked a wide range of people for their understanding of leadership. The messages I got back can be summarised as : "a leader is someone who I can trust and respect and who enables me to get things done and who, in the process, inspires me to do my best and to achieve results."

As I replied to my questioner, there is plenty of power and authority; there is plenty of command and control; there is plenty of talk - but precious little leadership. And that's a tragedy.

What do you think?

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