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Winners, Opportunists, Hustlers

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In the United States, we do not know how to train, develop and educate authentic leaders.

The few that we do have are authentic despite their education, not because of it.

So let's ask: "What does our system of educating leaders produce?"

What do we get for our investment of time, money and energy?

What we get is:
  • Winners
  • Opportunists
  • Hustlers

Winning, opportunism and hustling take skill, get things to happen and move people up the ladder. They may even be key elements of genuine, authentic leadership --

Winning: The overwhelming desire, intention or drive to score, to seize the moment, to be victorious over an adversary or an obstacle. Winners excel at competition. Winners have ways of turning what looks daunting or impossible into reality.

Opportunism: Seeing, creating and exploiting new openings for one's own advantages and moving into them with everything you got.

Hustling: Moving things, ideas, people, resources, from one place to another, fast, and getting many, many things done, over and over again, unstopped by business as usual.

Winners, hustlers and opportunists do get to the front of the line where they're expected to lead. However, leadership requires something beyond, and distinct from, what winning, opportunism and hustling make available. So a Mitt Romney, or a Barack Obama, a Jack Welch or a James Cameron do get to the front of the line: As they win (more than they lose), they achieve authority, renown, accomplishment, money and support.

Then what?

How are they expected to lead?

At the head of the line, they intend to lead authentically, but there's a catch. Our current model of leadership assumes that people who lead are the people who "already know the right answers" to the "right" questions. It is based on a notion that leaders lead from what can be called their success strategy. The strength of their past, what they already know, and already do.

I assert that the real deal, authentic leaders, lead not by what they already "know" but from what they can invent and discover. People such as
  • Orville and Wilbur Wright
  • Martin Luther King
  • Henry Ford
  • Steve Jobs
  • Susan B. Anthony

They re-invent the world, or enterprise, or government, or a business unit. What was not predictable or known gets taken on, and accomplished.

They initiate, inspire, work for and produce what we call "breakthroughs."

What do I mean by a Breakthrough?

A breakthrough is an outcome, event or impact that lies outside prediction and know-how. It is not mere "luck". It is intentionally caused.

A breakthrough requires a shift -- a "track" change from the track of knowing and doing the past more and more, better and better, to the track of leading: inventing, discovering and standing for new possibilities beyond what is already known, or expected, or predicted, or foreseen -- beyond current reality.

Demonstrations of Breakthrough Leadership are:
  • Washington at Valley Forge
  • Kennedy with the Apollo Program
  • Reagan with Gorbachev
  • Clinton with the Budget
  • FDR with a depressed economy and a depressed people

I assert that the many potential leaders -- the students, the executives, the managers in our schools and educational programs -- are merely informed "about" leadership -- like a textbook does.

Second hand.

So our "leaders" know a lot "about" leadership, but they often can't generate it, as their own, their own invention, in their own distinct voice. One can know, understand and explain a lot "about" golf and still not be able to effectively play golf, in action, on the links.

An Example: As a major public leader who had accountability for over one million people, this leader began to notice his own success strategy. By being "the smartest guy in the room", he had moved up the ladder to where he was the authority. He would get to the answer fast, waiting impatiently, drumming his fingers.

This fast, dismissive style left a "burn zone" around him of people being discounted, dis-empowered, and diminished. As he began to take on the possibility of being an authentic leader versus being the smartest guy in the room, he started to see that leadership is about empowering and enabling people to generate and fulfill a future that wasn't going to happen anyway. This future genuinely expresses and fulfills people's most ardent commitments and concerns.

To empower is to inspire, to equip, and to authorize. What skills did he develop as a leader that he didn't have as a "smart, knowledge expert?"

  • He listened more, much more; keenly, perceptively, effectively.
  • He asked questions openly and usefully. He inquired, looked, discovered, and learned. He didn't have to "know it all."
  • He adopted a view of people as resourceful, smart, and capable vs. disappointing, dumb and slow.

As he began to do that, people stepped up and took on accountabilities they hadn't before. It wasn't about proving he was the best and smartest anymore; it was about them! His intelligence was now in the service of empowering, inspiring and equipping people -- authorizing their action, developing and challenging their mindsets and their skill sets...

Consider: We are all, by force of habit, "addicted" to and seduced by our success strategies which hide from our view our "Blind Spots" which arise and expand over time.

The more one is taken in by, and enthralled with his or her own success strategy, the bigger the "blind spot."

This "blind spot" has been classically called, "hubris." The Pride that goeth before The Fall.

Authentic Leadership in America is missing.

While winning, opportunism and hustling are powerful and arguably essential to leadership, they will in and of themselves never equal or constitute leadership. Being a real leader also requires creating the ability to see and be true to the whole of something. Authentic leaders have learned to say/cause/invent/stand for a future that wasn't there anyway; to inspire and engage people authentically, in their commitment to the future; and to deal with the inevitable breakdowns, setbacks, and obstacles openly, creatively, collaboratively.

Winners, by contrast, are stars -- individual high performers -- but not necessarily leaders. Counting on genuine leadership from a star, without literally transforming their mindset from individual to leader... is a painful, disappointing process. Those of us who empower leaders know that from direct, professional experience.

A star is all about him/herself as an individual. Far from being empowered, when one is around a "star" one is left with "well, good for you..."

By contrast, an authentic leader stands for a purpose much bigger than his or her individual concerns.

As long as our model of leadership pretends to be "the smartest guy or gal wins," we will not have authentic leadership in America. Ever.

Smartest guys and gals are just that: "the smartest." Leaders are leaders. They are distinct.

Consider: Leadership is a phenomenon of bold service to others; of integrity more than opportunism; of wisdom more than knowledge; of space, time and cultural perspective more than short term reaction; of courage more than calculation; of people development more than just getting quick answers. It is time to recognize that we, in the U.S. of A, know how to talk about, and write about, leadership, but we don't know how to directly cause it in others, coach, instill leadership. It can be directly caused, coached, developed in our people.

Net impact: Almost zero authentic leadership. Unexamined, undeveloped, simply missing.

Consider: As you look at your own leaders (if you, in fact, have any), notice how many attempt to lead by default to being a "knowledge" expert of some kind, or to being the "smartest guy in the room?" How many leaders do you see or know who lead by enabling other people to become smarter, more capable, more resourceful, more generous, more empowering? See if you can see the difference between the "smartest guys and gals"... ["Knowledge experts"] and authentic leaders -- in business, in the arts, in politics, in sports, in government, in the ministry, in the military.

What do you see?

Which one are you?

A number of the ideas and some of the material on leadership in this blog are derived from work done by Werner Erhard, Michael Jensen, Steve Zaffron and Kari Granger. See Erhard, Jensen and Granger, Creating Leaders: An Ontological/Phenomenological Model, http://ssrn.com/abstract=1681682 and Erhard, Jensen, Zaffron and Granger http://ssrn.com/abstract=1263835