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On Leadership and Denial

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I had an interesting coversation last night and the topic of leadership came up. Several years ago I was trying to improve my own performance and dived into the plethora of leadership literature out there. John Maxwell, Jack Welch and others have written many great things on the topic but recent chats among friends have crystallized some of the ideas for me.

Three Jobs of Leadership

There are three things that a leader has to do.

  • Define the Present – Call it situational awareness or just being awake, this is the ability to look around and see conditions as they are.
  • Determine the Destination – Vision. This is being able to see things not as they are but how they could be and communicate that to others with passion and confidence for how it will be better
  • Direct the Path – Knowing what is on the other side of the mountain is one thing. Deciding to go around, over or through it is another. I have little use for pure visionaries though. All strategy and no tactics.  To begin the journey you must pick a direction but then you must move.

Broken Leaders

“We promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears.”  – Francois De La Rochefoucauld

Sometimes leaders break. Overcome by failures of conditions or character and they fall into one of two patterns.

  • They can’t see the future for the present – Overwhelmed by the obstacles around them they settle into the role of manager – simply responding to events and not moving forward
  • They can’t see the present for the future – Unwilling to face challenges and problems directly they refuse to acknowledge them and pretend to progress or worse yet believe they have arrived before they have ever left the starting point

Both are forms of denial that poison an organization’s effectiveness. It is hard but every leader must balance the yin and yang of vision and reality or risk falling into the worst state of all. A loss of credibility and hallucination of success.  (Rule #13)

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