During last year’s Presidential primary debates, I remember having the thought, “Is this really the best we can do? Of all the leaders in our country, this is who we have to choose from?” From that point on, I launched a personal expedition to find the leaders in our culture. And not just those in the national spotlight, but those on a local level as well. After eighteen months of searching, I have come to the conclusion that America is suffering from Leadership Anemia.
From our political structure to our corporations, we are stricken with deficient leadership. Yes, there are leaders out there, but I have noticed that our collective definition of leadership is lacking. In many cases, we have confused positional authority with leadership. As a result, those who find themselves leading others have not been properly equipped. This absence of authentic leadership has left us exposed. More importantly, it leaves leaders wanting as well.
I believe we are fast approaching a tipping point on this failed leadership paradigm. If we refuse to heed the symptomatic warnings, we will fail. But the good news is, the vast majority of the population still longs to be led. Not from a position of authority, but from a place of authenticity.
It is time for us to recalibrate our compass, redefine true leadership and reshape our perspective. For the brave and willing few, now is the time to lead.
What is Leadership Anemia?
I want to use a quick science lesson to highlight and define what I mean when I say Leadership Anemia.
Anemia is a condition resulting from a lack of red blood cells which limits the flow of oxygen throughout the body resulting in fatigue, dizziness and exhaustion. Oxygen is the vital element to the human body’s functionality. We can live without food for a few weeks. We can even live without water for a few days. But six minutes without oxygen and the body’s vital organs begin to die.
Leadership is the oxygen within our sociological construct. Just as the body must have oxygen, institutions, corporations and individuals alike must be led. Leadership is the vital element to human flourishing. Without it, individuals and corporations will die. Leadership Anemia, then, is the process by which we are deprived of this necessary element resulting in personal fatigue, loss of direction and depleted hope.
If you’re feeling any of these symptoms, you may suffering from Leadership Anemia.
The Lance Armstrong Mindset
One of the primary causes of Leadership Anemia stems from how we define the word leadership. We often refer to the one out front as a “leader”. In sporting events, we refer to the team with more points as “in the lead”. In the corporate world, executives and managers are called “leaders”. This positional definition creates a world hellbent on competition. The result: those who win, those who advance, are the leaders.
This environment creates a two-headed problem. First is what I call The Lance Armstrong Mindset. Lance Armstrong was an incredible athlete whose pride and desire to win outpaced his moral compass. When he turned to performance enhancing drugs to maintain his competitive edge, his integrity disappeared. In hindsight, he was stripped of his awards and his image will be forever tarnished.
But of course this isn’t limited to athletics. We see politicians who bend the rules to get elected, salesman who engage in immoral practices to stay competitive and corporations that take advantage of customers to achieve success. This is not leadership. In fact, it has the opposite effect. It creates a loss of trust.
Leaders must get honest about their motives and refuse to blur the lines. If our desire to compete outpaces our desire to maintain integrity, we will stand in the spotlight of the podium while losing the respect of the crowd. An authentic leader seeks integrity above all and refuses immoral or illegitimate actions to gain personal advantage.
But most leaders know this, right?
Well, the question isn’t do they know it. The question is, are they living this way?
That Which is Popular Versus That Which is True
The second problem of positional leadership is that we inadvertently follow the wrong people.
For a long time, I thought that an online following was a prerequisite for a good leader. As a result, I looked to the frontrunners and the titans of industry for wisdom. But as I got honest about the propaganda, I saw a chink in the armor. Most were willing to say whatever they needed to say to maintain their position regardless if it was true or not. In short, they were willing to appeal to the masses rather than hold to their convictions.
Leadership isn’t a popularity contest. It’s about having the conviction to follow the truth without compromise. Leaders are burdened with a cause, a why, a truth that they have to stand for. And they are willing to be courageous enough to follow it regardless of the opinion of others. Sometimes, the true leaders are the ones saying the least popular things.
Consider these historical leaders. When Abraham Lincoln first spoke up regarding the abolition of slavery, it wasn’t popular. When Martin Luther King, Jr. marched during the Civil Rights Movement he was seen as heretical. And when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates revolutionized the personal computer, they were thought foolish. Time has proven otherwise.
At some point, we have to switch our focus from what is popular to what is true.
In Search of a Cure
America is slowly dying from a lack of authentic leadership. And the cure for Leadership Anemia begins with a willingness to get honest about who we’re leading, who we’re following and why. Like for real. All of us are leading someone somewhere. By that same token, all of us are being led somewhere.
Make a list of the leaders in your life. Who are they? Do they exhibit integrity, courage and truth? Why are you following them? In addition, think about those in your life that you are in a position to lead. Are you aware of the impact your life has? Do you exhibit integrity, courage and truth in your daily actions? More importantly, are you actively leading yourself?
I will no longer dance around this issue of deficient leadership. My call and passion is to empower leaders to get honest about these issues and encourage them to courageously step into their call. I’m tired of watching the Pied Pipers of leadership direct their followers down a path of destruction. Enough is enough. I’m tired of CEOs committing suicide and I’m tired of watching competition and greed ruin the lives of people with limitless potential.
If you’re a leader, it’s time to step up. Get honest about your motives, get real about your convictions and be wiling to fight for something greater than yourself. After all, leadership is about them, not you.