Are You Really A Leader?

We’re confused.  We say we want great leaders to take us forward, onward, and upward, but heaven forbid – and there is hell to pay – when they impact our lives, change the way we do things, or make us uncomfortable.  What it seems we really want – and our bookstores and bookshelves, organograms and development programmes all appear to confirm this –  are really good managers that tick all the right boxes and don’t step on our toes while doing so.

But this is not leadership!

I am very grateful to Steve Jobs for this statement: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”  Why, you may ask?  Consider the following text as my answer:

“What took place in the Greco-Roman, as in the Christian world, was that fatal shift from leadership to management that marks the decline and fall of civilizations.

At the present time, Captain Grace Hopper, that grand old lady of the Navy, is calling our attention to the contrasting and conflicting natures of management and leadership. No one, she says, ever managed men into battle. She wants more emphasis in teaching leadership. But leadership can no more be taught than creativity or how to be a genius. The Generalstab tried desperately for a hundred years to train up a generation of leaders for the German army, but it never worked, because the men who delighted their superiors, i.e., the managers, got the high commands, while the men who delighted the lower ranks, i.e., the leaders, got reprimands.

Leaders are movers and shakers, original, inventive, unpredictable, imaginative, and full of surprises that discomfit the enemy in war and the main office in peace. For managers are safe, conservative, predictable, conforming organization men and team players, dedicated to the establishment.

The leader, for example, has a passion for equality. We think of great generals from David and Alexander on down, sharing their beans or maza with their men, calling them by their first names, marching along with them in the heat, sleeping on the ground, and first over the wall. A famous ode by a long-suffering Greek soldier, Archilochus, reminds us that the men in the ranks are not fooled for an instant by the executive type who thinks he is a leader.

For the manager, on the other hand, the idea of equality is repugnant and indeed counterproductive. Where promotion, perks, privilege, and power are the name of the game, awe and reverence for rank is everything, the inspiration and motivation of all good men. Where would management be without the inflexible paper processing, dress standards, attention to proper social, political, and religious affiliation, vigilant watch over habits and attitudes, and so forth, that gratify the stockholders and satisfy security?

“If you love me,” said the Greatest of all leaders, “you will keep my commandments.” “If you know what is good for me,” says the manager, “you will keep my commandments, and not make waves.” That is why the rise of management always marks the decline of culture. If the management does not go for Bach, very well, there will be no Bach in the meeting; if management favours vile, sentimental doggerel verse extolling the qualities that make for success, young people everywhere will be spouting long trade-journal jingles from the stand; if the management’s taste in art is what will sell—trite, insipid, folksy kitsch—that is what we will get; if management finds maudlin, saccharine commercials appealing, that is what the public will get; if management must reflect the corporate image in tasteless, trendy new buildings, down come the fine old pioneer monuments.

To Parkinson’s Law, which shows how management gobbles up everything else, he added what he calls the “Law of Injelitance”: Managers do not promote individuals whose competence might threaten their own position; and so as the power of management spreads ever wider, the quality deteriorates, if that is possible. In short, while management shuns equality, it feeds on mediocrity.

On the other hand, leadership is an escape from mediocrity. All the great deposits of art, science, and literature from the past on which all civilization is nourished come to us from a mere handful of leaders. For the qualities of leadership are the same in all fields, the leader being simply the one who sets the highest example; and to do that and open the way to greater light and knowledge, the leader must break the mould. “A ship in port is safe,” says Captain Hopper, speaking of management; “but that is not what ships were built for,” she adds, calling for leadership. True leaders are inspiring because they are inspired, caught up in a higher purpose, devoid of personal ambition, idealistic, and incorruptible.” (Leaders and Managers. Hugh W. Nibley. August 19, 1983 BYU Commencement.)

Merriam-Webster defines the term ‘Innovation’ as “the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.”

And so if we introduce their definition into Jobs’ quote, we get an interesting potential answer to the question:  Are You Really A Leader?

“The act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

And so Mr CEO or CEO wannabee, or Mrs Politician or you young budding public servant – test yourself – are you a leader by this definition?  A further test: Do you have a “passion for equality”, are you a “mover and shaker, original, inventive, unpredictable, imaginative, full of surprises”, and do you consider yourself “inspiring because [you] are inspired, caught up in a higher purpose, devoid of personal ambition, idealistic, and incorruptible.”?

Or are you “safe, conservative, predictable, conforming organization men [or women] and team players, dedicated to the establishment.”?

The key to success in any career is to realise which is which and what is what.  A gold thread uncovered by analysis of those who are highly successful individuals and leaders is a process where they (1) realise who they really are, and understand their strengths and weakness; (2) seek out best practices that enhance their strengths (which they focus on) and bolster their weaknesses (which they compensate for mostly through the creation of a well designed team and wise council); (3) and then consciously engage and practice these until their use becomes second nature and subconscious.

The truth of the matter is that within each of us there is both a leader and manager.  What is not said enough though is that both of these differing systems of thought and processes of engagement are vital for any team or organisation to succeed.  One could not be without the other. Now retired professor of organizational behaviour at Harvard Business School in Boston, John P. Kotter says it this way: “Management is about coping with complexity, while leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change.”

Who are you really?  Are you a leader?  Are you actually a manager?  This article provides some interesting points against which to measure yourself.  Whichever it is, figure it out as quickly as possible so you can seek out best practices, and then make them second nature.

Always remember:  The authentic you, manager or otherwise, is 100 times the leader the fake you will ever be!

This article appeared in the





Founder of Future CEOs™ and co-host of the Future CEOs™ show on, Gareth seeks to empower high potential young executives and ambitious entrepreneurs as they push for CEO status.

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