Seismic Shifts in Leadership

It has been happening for about 20 years now, maybe a bit longer, but has, as of September 2008, started to make a seismic shift. The “it” I allude to is leadership development, and while leadership of one sort or another has been with us since people first started living in groups, it is only lately that our image of it has started to change; and change for the better in my view.
In Barak Obama, people around the world witnessed an underdog pull off one amazing upset after another: textbook perfect leadership behaviour as he became a national senator, gained the Democratic nomination, fended off the maniacal Jeremiah Wright, ousted Hillary Clinton, and soundly defeated John McCain. And how did he do this? When we examine it closely, we see someone who measured his words and promises carefully, then backed up his words with action. An ‘olive branch’ speech to the Muslim world was followed immediately by granting his first interview as President of the U.S. to Muslim a network. Rather than shrink away from the Wright controversy, Obama met the challenge with the most eloquent and forthright speech on racism in America in 40 years. He walked his talk.
The shift that is starting to register with people is the notion that we have a right to expect leadership to be a set of behaviours rather than a position of authority. That means Wall Street ‘leaders’ can no longer take irresponsible risks with our society, bring it to the brink of disaster, and still dole out outrageous bonuses to their old boys club. If they lay claim to leadership, the public is beginning to hold them accountable for their deeds and for results, as seen in the AIG bonus reversal. I doubt those ‘leaders’ have changed their minds or hearts, but if public pressure is the only thing that yields accountability, so be it. It’s a start.
Human rights journalists in Russia (at least two so far) have shown leadership by putting their lives on the line (and, unfortunately, losing them) for their beliefs. Former Iranian President Rafsanjahni dares to make a speech against the regime, demanding that those who are still distrustful of the election results be listened to and appeased. Dangerous and honorable leadership behaviour. Conversely, pols in the West (particularly Britain and America) are fast learning that prior public apathy and tolerance for scandal, corruption and deceit is exhausted.
This momentum bodes well for all of us. As our leaders begin to realize that we will more and more in future hold them accountable, expect them to live as they claim they will, perhaps they will rethink what it means to be an effective leader, and begin to develop the habits that will produce better results. Again, it would be better if they made the necessary changes for the right reason (that being to deliver the best possible outcomes for those they lead), but even if their sole motivation is to keep their political office or business position, we’ll still be better off.
The shift is starting, and it is not going to go away. But if we each look inward and ask how we might be better leaders too (clean our own houses first) we can ensure the momentum builds quickly and broadly. A little personal introspection will also help us know better what we can reasonably ask of our public leaders. Doing so on a regular basis will give us a better world.

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