Where Have All Our Leaders Gone?

Now, more than ever before in the history of our global community, we are seeing our current leaders struggling under the pressures of a dynamic, ever moving environment.

We see the practice of “reactive leadership”, which is really another term for “management”, but seemingly not the visionary, proactive leadership every human being on the planet innately longs for and responds to.

Symptoms of this can be seen everywhere – for example:  Over and over in leadership conversations we find ourselves referring back to the great leaders of the past, not the present, to reference leadership in its most powerful form:  Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jnr., Mohatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Henry Ford, George Washington, Ray Croc, Margaret Thatcher, John D. Rockefeller, and even Mao Zedong or Adolf Hitler, are names that come up time and time again as powerful influencers and nation movers.

Another example pointing to our growing leadership concern: political and business leaders continually using past events to motivate why they should be in power or justifying that their actions “aren’t as bad as it was before.”

The next generation of leaders is being pulled into this cycle subconsciously and unknowingly.  Much like what happens during our formative, youth years where we inadvertently pick up the behaviors and habits of those closest to us, so too we cannot deny the influence of leaders we see around us and the impact they have on what we do.

Years ago, even as early on as infancy, you may have learned that screaming at your mother got her to eventually surrender and give you what you wanted.  Today you may have a manager or boss who does the same to you, re-enforcing that behavior.  Perhaps you were one of those children (I think we all tried to do this at one time or another) who tried to play mom against dad, and manipulated them into a position where we again got what we wanted?  Here we learned that if honesty doesn’t cut it, then lie to and manipulate those around you.  In the case of unruly youth, life and societal rules of engagement of the past usually brought them back in line, but things have changed.  Today we hear literally hundreds of reports of corrupt leaders, who are supposed to be looking out for the needs of the organization and or country, illegally lining their pockets.  There is a growing selfishness and self-centeredness that is no longer finding its moral counter weight out in the world, or even in our own homes.  And more and more our reaction seems to be:  “If they can do it, so can we!”

There are numerous examples one can use, and many more parallels that can be drawn to highlight a fact that we all know and feel:

In many ways we – society at large – are sliding backwards, and many of our leaders are, consciously or otherwise, responsible for this.

This is not an article pointing fingers at a particular group or organisation.  Rather, let us consider a few leadership imperatives we seem have left behind as we have sped, at an increasingly faster and reckless pace, into yesterday’s future.

1.       A powerful vision

John Lennon once sang “Imagine” and we did.  There was a time when we seemed to be able to look up from our busy lives and dream of a bigger brighter tomorrow.  This dreaming gave rise to seafaring adventures whose influence is still felt today wherever in the world these brave men and women landed.  The light bulb, motor car, airplane, atomic energy, space travel and more, came as a result of vision followed by courageous acts.

The truth is we all still dream, we all still think big, but we have become so concerned and blinded by other issues, the nitty gritty of everyday life, that we have stopped acting upon these.  Every once in a while a Steve Jobs will lift his head out of this bog and we hail him for his brilliance.  It is my opinion that Steve Jobs and those similar to him are not as rare as we seem to believe.  So let’s dream a little more, and do something about it.  People follow those that courageously and tenaciously chase inspired visions.

2.       The courage to act

I believe that is was our own beloved Madiba that said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Early on in the journey of every business students’ studies, he or she learns about opportunity cost.  The principle is simple:  for every decision we make, there is a cost we incur.  Every time we have an opportunity to stand up or sit down we unavoidably encounter the cost of that decision.  To sit means to remain the same.  To stand means to engage an unknown, uncertain future but quite possibly rise that little bit higher, becoming that little more refined and better.  From observing others who have done both, those who have become someone, are those who stood up, took the bull by the horns and never let go. 

Today an opportunity is going to present itself.  Have the courage, perhaps the moral backbone, to stand up.  When we stand, we never stand alone.

3.       The “stick-to-it-ness” and dedication to realise our goals

We live in a world of instant everything.  Every minute, according to the business intelligence platform Domo, Google receives over 2 million search queries.  That is 2 million people wanting instant answers every minute.  During that same minute, 284 166 667 emails are sent.  Instant communication spanning the globe.    And every year, pain killer manufacturers produce literally billions of units to keep up with demand.  Instant pain relief.

Is it any wonder that we seem to lose interest or heart so quickly?  Your and my challenge today is to decide where we want to be tomorrow, or in a year’s time, or in 20 years time, and do – everyday – whatever is necessary to realise the goals we set. 

A quote I love:  “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can do what others can’t.”  The princple therein seems to be one of the golden threads present in the lives of revered leaders the world over.  Allow it to become one of yours.

4.       The humility to accept feedback, correction and guidance

Pride is a leadership killer.  It prevents one from examining and discovering opportunities for growth within ourselves because we are too busy comparing our strengths with others weaknesses. 

Humility is its opposite.  It gives opportunity and permission to others to scrutinise its faults and potential weaknesses, because it knows that once discovered, they can be worked on and rectified.  In a society obsessed with self and personal advancement, it is a strange phenomenon that we attempt so actively to avoid an honest conversation with ourselves and others. 

Humility is a sign of true confidence and a solid foundation, both being leadership imperatives in and of themselves.  Begin today by asking for correction.

This list is not exhaustive.  There is much that can be added here.  But I believe that if we start to work on these four areas today, we will be well on the way to becoming as admired and respected as those leaders of bygone eras of whom we speak so highly.

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Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on adriaan@leadershipplatform.com for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




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

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022
Email: info@leadershipplatform.com

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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