The Blaming, Blocking, and Belittling Behavior Of Today’s So-Called Leaders
“As a business school dean, I am part of that educational system, yet I, too, am not a big fan of how overused, and misused, the L-word has become. When an alumnus vigorously argued to me early in my tenure that we should rename our school of management a school of leadership, he made me wonder if I was in the right job. I suddenly got this image of the character Barney, who entertained my children in their younger years, singing to everyone, ‘Leaders, leaders, everyone’s a leader . . .’
… When used properly, at least in educational contexts, the word leadership now refers to high character, and the people who are leaders are those who think and act intentionally on behalf of the organizations and communities in which they live and work. They commit to using their lives to engage beyond the self, to engage in the call to human progress, by building up and strengthening the quality of human work and human organizations, rather than tearing them down.
The high character associated with true leadership can be demonstrated and lived anywhere in an organization or community; it’s not about rank or title. People can lead by example very powerfully at the lowest levels of an organization when they demonstrate true excellence in how they answer a phone, relay messages, or interact with every person who seeks their assistance. People can lead from the middle when they build strong, resilient work teams with healthy cultures and excellent performance. …
Now, we all make life confusing when we use the words leader and leadership sometimes to indicate high rank and sometimes high character. In the latter sense, I would argue, we are not seeing nearly enough leadership in action. Not on Wall Street, on Main Street, or on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Finger-pointing is not leadership behavior. Blocking appointments to the highest court in the land, which both parties have done or threatened to do within the last year, is not leadership behavior. Deliberately misstating the truth is not leadership behavior, nor is bounding your behavior by what’s legal but not thinking more deeply about what’s moral or just. Belittling, ridiculing, or ignoring those who think differently from how you do is not leadership behavior. And maximizing short-term profit and political gain at the expense of shared values and the long-term well-being of our country and world is definitely not leadership behavior.
So, while the word leadership may be overused today, we are still not seeing nearly enough of what it stands for. In my mind, excellence in character shouldn’t be optional for those fortunate enough to be selected or elected to lead from the top. And if we believe in the power of human progress, somebody has to model true leadership—that is, leadership in rank and in character—for the next generation. Way too many of today’s so-called leaders certainly aren’t doing that. So who is going to step up, and when? We are all waiting.”