Is Leadership Dead?

Such a provocative question really speaks to what can be considered the death of a tired, unproductive form of leadership, one that has been dying for many years but has somehow managed to hang on for far too long. Is it now perhaps taking its last few breaths, its death being hastened by the emergence of a new economy accompanied by a new breed of followers and naïve leaders?

Now before you think I may have lost it altogether let me assure those who believe that serving and inspiring followers is more important than controlling, manipulating and exploiting them then leadership is alive and well and should continue to have a bright future.

South Africa has not escaped decades of greed, manipulation and corruption undertaken by leaders in the political, public and corporate arena. This generation is searching for authentic and selfless leaders that ultimately hold a mission higher than themselves.

The search for authentic and selfless leaders is a paramount issue for the next generation of leaders.

Most of us carry a mixture of emotions and feelings around leadership. We see those who claim to be leaders but do not ‘walk the talk’ and there are others that we have known who have won us over with their integrity. The question as to whether leadership as we have known it is dead is relevant given that far too many leaders have abused their positions and lost their moral compass.

Traditional leadership principles no longer apply in this modern world, greed, selfishness, corruption and self –preservation prevail, with devastating results. Many leaders have abandoned all long –term responsibility and its requisite discipline in favour of short term goals. The runaway greed, skyrocketing salaries for corporate and state executives coupled with unkept promises from political leaders have left most people feeling betrayed.

This has led many to view leaders with a degree of cynicism and a loss of trust by those whom they are to inspire and lead with integrity. This is true in both public and corporate leadership today.

If leadership is to be revived there must be a willingness to embrace three core concepts:

  • To fully grasp what leadership is and what it is not.
  • A willingness to explore the inner world of leadership- to embrace new thinking around intent, power and motive.
  • Recognise that influence is now the new paradigm for true leadership.

We can all make an impact on others.  Power or a prominent position to lead positive change is not a pre –requisite, what is needed is influence, the most potent resource on the planet. Interactions without influence are purely transactional; it is the ingredient that makes true empowering leadership come to life. Where manipulation and control wounds, influence energises. To be of influence requires that leaders shed the fears and self –preservation instincts that hold them back.

Self- Preservation and Self –Destruction

Self –preservation can have no place in the new paradigm of the modern leader. What is required is a willingness to sacrifice their own security to reach out and inspire others. The paradox of this is that the more that one gives away, the more everyone receives and this works both ways –more success, greater significance. Contrary to the ‘greed is good’  mentality that has permeated leadership at many levels for so long, the greatest strategy for leadership success cannot be based upon getting all one can as leader, instead it must be centred upon giving all you can.

For leadership to come alive it will require a bold re- assessment of long- standing principles of leadership practice coupled with a desire to provide leadership with influence as a vehicle for leaders to lead for the benefit of other.