THE LEADERSHIP TRAP

A prominent position that provides a unique insight into the role, responsibilities, attitudes and behaviors of a leader, is the American presidency (in particular, from the beginning of the 20th century to date). By studying the presidents’ actions and decisions, during the great depression, two world wars, the cold war, the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the two Gulf Wars and the war on terrorism, among many other events, one can extract valuable lessons on the many different aspects of being a leader.

The historian and author Robert Dallek proposes in his book “The American Presidency: from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan”, that some of the most effective presidents display the following attributes:

– The ability to create and communicate a vision
– Maintaining a pragmatic approach to their decision making
– The capability to seek and build consensus
– The capacity to inspire trust
– A certain degree of personal charisma

In addition, the author also explains that context and luck play significant roles in shaping the success or failure of a president. I believe we can take advantage of this brilliant analysis to understand or benchmark leadership positions in any kind of organization, which can also explain why, in most cases, there seems to be a very short supply of effective leaders in public office, industry and community related activities.

For some, this also supports the notion that the figure of the individual leader is becoming less relevant in the 21st Century, and that each person can and should have a broad range of self-leadership or self-management skills to achieve the goals within a collective enterprise. While I don’t disagree with the concept, I cannot find good examples that support the emergence of this trend in an organization.

These notions create, in my opinion, a “Leadership Trap”: we want to depend less from individual leaders, often disappointed at their performance, but we also seem to be reluctant to display effective self-leadership in our activities.

Regardless of whom we expect to lead, others or ourselves, the following are some examples of issues preventing effective leadership:

– Lack of self-awareness
– Unwillingness to seek help or support
– Deeply rooted and often inflexible belief systems
– Fear of change and uncertainty
– Resistance to learn from mistakes

I propose, in any kind of organization, regardless of its purpose and scale, that structures and processes dealing with these and many other obstacles are put in place, to increase the effectiveness of the individual and collective leaders. Training and education, mentorships and coaching, idea laboratories and exchanges, are some examples that come to mind.

And while these solutions appear almost obvious, there is little evidence of such structures and processes in government, business or community focused organizations. Let’s take a first step and find the best solution for you!