I am fed up with articles which present leadership as an easy effort and an overnight success – just google the word leadership and you will see 458,000,000 search results. To paraphrase a famous quote “leaders are like ghosts, everybody talks about them, but few have seen them”. There are millions of articles insulting our intelligence by offering 5, 7, 10, 12 easy steps to follow to become the leader of tomorrow, trying to persuade us that leading people is a piece of cake: How To Be A Better Leader In Just 5 Days, Be a More Gracious Leader: 12 Ways, 4 Ways to Be a Leader Who Matters. None of these articles is going to help us become better leaders and professionals. One size simply does not fit all. As much as we try to oversimplify it, managing and leading people is one of the hardest things to do – it’s messy and complicated, and paradoxical most of the time. Best intentions are good to have, but not enough.
I am saying that if we are to read about leadership, lets read about the real one, tested in time and proven in hardship. The one that takes years to learn, but is able to change lives. The best leadership literature asks questions and does not give you simple answers, nor easy tips. It recognizes that leadership starts with you. With knowing yourself, with understanding why you get up in the morning and what keeps you late awake. It begins with accepting who you are and changing what you don’t like. Leadership does not end with you. It is determined by those you lead. Leadership means being ready to lead the ship, as well as to know when it is time to leave the ship.
Some time ago I came across a wonderful interview about leadership with Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, a clinical professor of leadership development at INSEAD and director of INSEAD’s Global Leadership Centre. I admire his approach to leadership – realistic and painfully honest.
“I want people to ask themselves questions, I want people to have a life and make certain decisions before it is too late. My real challenge is to help people to help themselves. This means asking ourselves difficult questions such as why we are running, where we are running to, and, most importantly, what has made us run in the first place. It takes courage to stand still and to find out who we really are.
How much is enough?
How can you let go?
Is it worth it?
How can I make them discover that how they spend their time is more important than how they spend their money? They have to realize that status is an elusive entity, popularity an accident, wealth very fickle, and that only character endures. The purpose of life is to live it, not to plan to live it later. We need to love the moment. If we are not in touch with ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life. Heaven or hell is not determined by the direction in which we travel, but by the person we have become when we arrive. We cannot change what we do not acknowledge. It is no use lying to one’s self.”
– Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries