The lost art of leadership [The Re-Duex]


“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”
– Vincent van Gough

Leadership is in crisis. Strong words perhaps, but being a ‘leader’ is a privilege yet many of our leaders are falling very short of their obligations. Leadership is all about service not self. A true leader serves those he/she leads not the other way around-but somewhere, somehow, we increasingly seem to be forgetting who serves whom.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with some of America’s finest young leaders the other day. We discussed how the world screams for strong leaders today more than ever. These young folks are frustrated by what they perceive as a very real global crisis of leadership. They fully understand that leadership is not about winning, promotion, or personal power. It’s all about the greater good.

Furthermore, a recent Gallup poll highlighted 50 per cent of America’s workers are disengaged at work with another 20 per cent are actively disengaged (read actively hostile toward the employer); so 70 per cent of America’s work force is operating in a miserable fog; a fog that only strong value driven leadership can lift.


The 70 per cent doesn’t understand their organization’s mission or how their work contributes to the unit’s mission. Look around for disengaged employees-you can spot them a mile away-and look at their bosses. This is a quintessential leadership problem.

Put simply, weak leaders don’t emphasise the strategic perspective or assist in illuminating how individuals contribute to the perspective. Further, these weak leaders do not infuse meaning into their subordinate’s work. These faux leaders fail to offer positive feedback, and they fail to provide coaching, mentoring, or professional development.

In other words, poor leaders don’t see value in helping their organization’s members succeed. They have no insight, tools, competence in motivation, and no strategic sense of how to align individual activities toward strategic direction.

Personal power leaders

Personal power leaders lead from a position of self—these are the leaders who ask “what’s in it for me?” Personal power leaders want to know how big their office is, when’s the next promotion, comparing paychecks, and where’s their parking spot located. These personal power leaders want the respect, dignity, title, without earning these things by leading people toward lives that matter. They want the love leaders earn without having the courage, the humility, or the wisdom to give or love in return.

Greater good leaders

Greater good leaders are different. True leadership is increasingly becoming a lost art, and these greater good leaders lead not to a place, but to a higher level of existence-a better truer self. It is an act of love in a very uncertain world. It’s taking time to understand people and how they can contribute their unique strengths to the organisation’s mission and vision, all the while making these individuals stronger leaders and turning them back into the workforce ultimately improving the world for the better.

This type of leadership is subjective versus objective. As a global community we have rung all we can out of the objective side of leadership. We have to ask: are our objective leaders today better than our leaders of the past? Are we mass producing leaders where once we had managers through fad and fashion Can we identify the personal power leader? Can we identify the greater good leader when we see him/her?

So now, let’s imagine an organization with leaders who possess these traits that:

  1. Lets people be themselves.
  2. Celebrate differences and get the right people into the right seats at the right time.
  3. Communicates and understands the power in enabling an organization with the free flow of information.
  4. Understands and utilizes people’s strengths.
  5. Helps tie daily work to strategic objectives.
  6. Establish rules and regulations people believe in and hold everyone, including leaders, accountable and responsible for outcomes.

It’s the art of leadership and advancing leadership to improve the world. It’s not easy, but it is definitely worthwhile.

A version of this post also resides at The University of Cambridge’s Social Innovation Blog

5 Replies to “The lost art of leadership [The Re-Duex]”

  1. Hi Bill,

    This is interesting and on the mark. Many years ago, pre AMOS days, I was part of a Baldridge team assessing a USAF unit for the AF level trophy. One of the NIST Baldridge examiners assigned to our team (each team had one flag officer and two NIST certified Baldridge examiners as part of the team) discussed that same issue — that America was in the throws of a leadership crisis. He said that was what was driving CEO pay through the roof — if you found a good leader, you had to pay them enough to keep them from getting poached, and since there were so few true leaders….

    This same fellow also said he was very impressed with the effort the military put into developing leaders. He noted our schooling and the myriad opportunities up and down the chain for everyone to develop and practice leadership skills throughout a career. He lamented that corporate America generally doesn’t do that but also understood the financial investment involved citing that as a likely reason for that lack of development.

    In my current role, the bosses talk about the need to develop leaders and ‘encourage’ us to take leadership training (when funds are available and a spot in the schedule can be made available). That is a good idea but it falls short of what it takes to really develop leaders. A good bit of this training is ‘fuzzy’ and folks are frustrated because they can’t readily use those skills in their present role. Sometimes I think that in the present scenario, ‘leadership’ is begot via taking training and checking the box. As you are no doubt aware, there is much more to leadership than “a session at SOS and a lap at Project X”. There needs to be some follow up to the training where opportunity is provided and mentoring is available. That requires an investment on both sides…. That said, many people still don’t get the difference between leadership and management. I keep working on that point with my peers whenever I can because that is an important distinction.

    Cheers and thanks for a great read,


    1. Ben: Great thoughts and comment…leadership training–education can not be episodic. It is not an event that one attends and then is simply “good.” This is a life long learning ecosystem. It is all about knowing yourself to lead yourself, leading/knowing yourself to lead your organization, and through that becoming a leader worth following. So if we ask ourselves (dare I say daily) what are we doing in to better ourselves in those three categories–we should be moving the ball. My friends at GiANT Worldwide discuss a healthy “leadership” culture–where the organization…through shared education shares a leadership vocabulary expressed in visual leadership tools which creates a shared leadership language which changes leadership culture…and always remembering that culture trumps strategy under pressure every time…The key take away is leadership training can not be done by one dude, one time, at one event–it must be shared. We work on this a great deal–and it pays dividends…
      What do you think?

      Thanks again

      1. Hi Bill,

        I agree with leadership must be shared, and the dividend is well worth the investment. I wonder often, how organizations could improve on developing their cultures so that the environment can enable that shared investment. Part of the culture of working where I work is that there are aspects of the culture that don’t seem to be very trusting of the workforce. Other parts are very trusting. As for me, I am glad that I live on the good side of that discussion even while I lament for my colleagues that work for a different branch and the environment they deal with there.

        There are so many aspects of organizational culture that can impact the opportunity for leadership development that it is difficult to list them all. That said, you can sense whether the climate is well and accommodating to leadership development right when you walk through the door. Suffice it to say that you cannot have a good leadership culture if other cultural aspects of an organization are not conducive — it just doesn’t matter how hard you try, you need a firm foundation that everyone can trust first. Once you get to that, then you can build the leadership part. Of course, if the climate is not conducive, then you know where to look first to figure out what is up…. As for me, I work every day to build bridges and networks within the organization.

        Have a great weekend,

  2. Fantastic read. Thank you. Quick list at the end is worth the screen shot and revisit, daily!

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