What Defines Leadership?

My Comments: Some of my readers tell me I have TDS, which I assume to mean Trump Derangement Syndrome and not Tax Deducted at Source, or Total Dissolved Solids, or maybe The Dark Side.  If so, I suffer proudly.

I’ve been exposed in one way or another to leadership issues my entire life. I’ve worked for others, I’ve worked for myself, I’ve participated in dozens of community organizations over the years, I’ve closely followed local politics, from the town and county where I live up to the state level. Since I’m now in my 8th decade of life, I consider myself able to distinguish good leadership from bad leadership.

What follows is from the editors of a national magazine I’ve followed for the past 40 plus years in my role as a financial professional. They have always been rational and conservative in their approach to issues that resonate with their target audience.

I encourage you to at least read the first two paragraphs.

by Ginny Whitelaw / 23 OCT 2020 / https://tinyurl.com/y4oun4jw

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off in the final sparring match of the election season, vying for the top leadership job in the land. Each modeled the leadership they would bring to the Presidency and, while many have commented on the differences in their policies, an even more fundamental difference was on display in their leadership: one is real and one is fake.

Joe Biden exudes leadership that has grown through suffering, that has touched and been touched by human hearts, that admits mistakes and owns its vulnerability. Whether you agree with his plans or not, his leadership is real. The effect of real leadership is that is pulls the best out of others. Donald Trump projects an image of leadership that is full of confident-sounding bluster stating falsehoods as facts, that is empty of empathy, that doubles down on mistakes and covers any whiff of vulnerability. Regardless of whether you like his direction, his leadership is fake. And the surefire sign of fake leadership is it makes others regress to their lesser selves.    

Real leadership is not the product of position or power; it doesn’t happen by promotion or election. Rather it resonates from the inside out, to quote Kevin Cashman, as “authentic self-expression that creates value.” Authenticity is the necessary starting point because someone who can’t be authentic with him- or herself can’t be authentic with others, which means we never quite see the real person or fully trust the person we see. Authentic self-expression requires self-awareness, that is, an orientation toward truth over ignorance. It honors the truth of what it is to be human, which is to live in a vulnerable body, conditioned by a particular family, culture and life experience, to have a particular, partial view of reality that can be wrong and make mistakes. Embracing this truth (not ignoring it) makes it a less of an issue (not the elephant in the room), and from this limited but sincere self, actions can flow that create value for other people. And what is value? It may be a product or service, a beautiful work of art or music, a caring conversation or inspiring speech, or numerous other forms, all of which have in common that they lift others up.  

Zen leadership takes this even further by radically expanding the “authentic self” that can be expressed. Our sense of self, which has been evolving through our entire life, becomes larger and more inclusive as we mature. This expansion been characterized by Ken Wilber as moving from egocentric, to ethnocentric, worldcentric and finally “kosmocentric” (i.e., embracing the entire subjective and objective universe). Others have described the more expansive developmental stages as self-transforming (Kegan), alchemist (Torbert), integrative, and holistic (Beck), where we co-create one-with the whole picture. Physical Zen training both accelerates this journey and enables one to see through the ego that is taking it. As such, the value created through Zen leadership reveals the transcendental possibility of the human being, where limitless energy can function through a limited self.

Fake leadership, by contrast, regardless of its content or intent, sends people backwards toward their egocentric, impulsive, fear-based selves. We see this playing out in our country, both in the people who support Donald Trump and in those who don’t. Supporters tend to fall into two camps: those who feel left behind and think government is to blame and those who are doing quite well, thank you, and prefer as little government as possible. The first group is thrown back into fear mongering and impulsiveness, such as we see among the well-armed Proud Boys or the QAnon conspirators. The second group, many of whom are incredibly sophisticated, mature leaders in other aspects of their lives, are thrown back into egocentric concerns for their personal wealth. Among those who don’t support Trump, again many of whom are highly evolved in other aspects of their lives, fear and anxiety are rampant, as they watch justice undone, institutions weakened and even the democratic process of this election threatened from within and without.

Fake leadership tries to make the fake real and the real fake. It was on full display in the Presidential debate from Donald Trump’s glaring lack of self-awareness (“I am the least racist person in this room.”), to his inauthentic engagement with real issues (“It’s going away,” he said of the coronavirus even as cases are on the rise), to his effort to reify false claims against Biden. By the end of the night we were buried under what CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale characterized as “an avalanche of lying even by Donald Trump standards.” The result is further division and difficulty in our society as those who believe Trump join him in a fabricated reality, while those who don’t believe him are disempowered by the real-world damage he’s causing.

No single person, including Joe Biden, can fix all the wicked issues we face. But real leadership does serve to build resonance toward greater value. It does pull people together, which would be mighty refreshing about now, where good-hearted efforts can add up to important tipping points of change. It does pull people up to want to do more, serve more, and hold themselves to a higher standard. At its best, real leadership empowers people to give their best.

Whatever your leadership, make it real.

4 thoughts on “What Defines Leadership?

  1. Tony B

    Interesting. Apparently, she’s never met a New Yorker. Trump has gotten GREAT results over the past 3.5 years, but she uses “laundry list persuasion” utilizing several straw men arguments. She didn’t mention Biden’s lie of the “fine people” hoax…..and the lie that the laptop is “Russian interference”…despite no evidence. Daily, we hear a new revelation (that the media ignores) of how he’s compromised, and has enriched his family over the past two generations by selling his influence to foreign agents.
    Trump is a flawed guy, in his own words. Biden, and the dem’s handpicked true nominee, Kamala Harris? As phony as they come. Neither could lead their way out of a paper bag.


  2. Tony B

    By the way…it’s not IF, but HOW MANY of Joe’s 47 years in DC was he selling out American jobs and his influence to China, Ukraine, USSR and other countries.
    But “through pain and empathy”, he’s a great leader!
    He is certainly the candidate for War, Inc. Meanwhile, Trump continues to do the impossible by decimating ISIS, getting peace deal after peace deal in the middle east……but he’s mean, so…..


  3. Tony B

    Hey look! Since I posted these three notes quickly, Trump just received ANOTHER Nobel nomination!
    Tell me again about leadership?


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