August 15, 2012

Just what is leadership anyway?

What is a good leader? A leader isn't someone who does the work. A leader is someone who inspires people, or a team, to do it themselves. A leader inspires people to put forth their best efforts. He (or she) brings out their best. A leader also leads by example. A leader has a vision that drives a team in a direction, it does not drag people towards that vision kicking and screaming.

What a leader isn't, is someone who convinces people that they have peaked. An Olympic athlete's coach doesn't tell the athlete to shoot for 5th, or that they can't possibly get any better. He pushes the athlete to go for the gold. The coach, the leader, understands that in every person there is the potential for greatness that is there to be tapped.

Now compare and contrast president Obama with the vice-presidential candidate on the Republican side, Paul Ryan.

President Obama would have you believe that your station in life fundamentally is fixed. You have no control, but rather you at the mercy of controlling, powerful people and organizations, and you are simply a pawn. In such a world, you need government. Government is your protector. Government will save you from the harsh realities that would otherwise be thrust upon you by these rapacious, mysterious unknown overlords. Let us save you, is the message. The implied notion is that only they feel your pain and therefore are equipped to help you. They are no more or less equipped than Republicans to help you, but the danger comes from the fact that they feel they are the only ones equipped to help you - conveniently overlooking people themselves.

That portrayal of the world at large is pretty nihilistic, and equally unrealistic. It assumes that by one's stature alone, one is defined as greedy and uncaring. Only the poor and downtrodden have hearts. But then why do charities exist? And more problematic, how did anyone ever become rich in the first place? If the poor are not greedy, then how could they become rich to prey upon the remaining poor? If we are all a product of our station, then charity would not exist and people would never become wealthy. Therefore there is a flaw with the class warfare world view. The problem is free will. People are not beholden to a value set associated with a class. in fact free will is such a problem, those who ascribe to that class struggle (Marxist) view of the world, seek to stamp out free will.

Let government take care of you and you don't need to think about what's right. They'll protect you, and they'll do the thinking for you thank you very much. No thanks. That's a depressing world view, void of not only free will, but inalienable rights.

Contrast that with Paul Ryan. It's summed up perfectly in his own words;
“When I was growing up, flipping burgers at McDonald’s or…washing dishes, I never felt like I was stuck in some station in life,” Ryan said. “I thought to myself: I’m the American dream.”
Now that's inspiring. He was flipping burgers and he was thinking bigger, and he made it. Surely that burger flipper was not part of the so called 1%. Yet now he is successful. Why? Because he worked hard for it. The success is inspirational. He's led by example. And now he's exhorting the rest of the team to be their best too. That's real leadership.

Here's some red meat leadership on display from Ryan:


  1. We may lead by compassion. We may lead by example.
    We all can lead. We all have the ability to be remarkable leaders. Leadership isn’t about position. Leadership isn’t about power.
    Leadership is about potential – your potential.

  2. Very true Mike. It's also about bringing out the potential in others.


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