Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Leadership as a Responsibility to Sacrifice

In the world of journalistic and popular writers who double as motivational speakers, leadership is the proverbial rainbow into which practically any ideal can be subsumed. Unfortunately, the enterprise can be likened to a hot-air balloon that has lost its moorings. That is to say, the link between the aspirations and what they can actually deliver typically received little if any real attention, not to mention respect. In some cases, the promises of leadership motivational-speakers, or “coaches,” run up against, or ignoring outright, human nature itself. Ironically, as such leadership preachments are typically (and quite conveniently) oriented to upper-echelon corporate managers, or executives, Communism suffers from the same flaw: contravening human nature. Yet the leadership bubble continues upward, quite unabated by reality.

Simon Sinek, for example, has spoken of leadership in terms of taking care of others. Dismissing the academic literature on visionary and charismatic leadership, he told his Leadercast audience in 2014 that those qualities can be disregarded. As if he were defining leadership itself, he said that it is “sacrificing for others.” It is “a responsibility; not a right,” he insisted as though his insistence made it a fact. What about all those leaders who act out of a right of authority? Are they not really leaders? To reduce leadership to a duty is at the very least to chop off a major limb—that of leadership authority. More to the point, the reductionism is ideological in nature, cloaked as definitional knowledge. Sinek would have been more honest were he to have said, I think leaders should be motived by a sense of responsibility rather than their authority.

Moreover, what about human nature? What would it have to say about putting the well-being of others in front of one’s own on a sustained basis? If such leadership conflicts with how humans are “hard-wired,” we could predict a short trajectory before burnout.

Lastly, what about the realities of power and money in corporate capitalism? Are they safely to be ignored too? Sinek’s promise of “an organization that sacrifices for others” turns the mechanizations of a corporation upside-down; maximizing profit is not typically accomplished by sacrificing for other companies or stakeholders, and yet to lead a CEO must sacrifice himself and his company out of some sense of responsibility?

My point is simply that reflections such as these that could tie down Sinek’s leadership balloon seem to go by the wayside, or in some cases are not even thought of. All too often, the lofty ideological aspirations are swallowed as some kind of new dogma already established as fact, or knowledge. To be sure, Sinek’s declaration that leadership is a responsibility rather than a right looks dogmatic. Underneath, ideology is presumptuously masquerading as knowledge even as the knowledge itself is safely ignored as an inconvenient truth.