Leadership and You

For the most part it’s a sad and sorry world in terms of leadership. We look around, whether at work, in our religious and cultural institutions, or in the political sphere, and it seems no one can inspire the masses with vision and hope. Many who might have been able to lead were assassinated, literally or metaphorically. So what do we do? Bitch and moan? Opt for cynicism and despair? Maybe we can look at the situation through a different lens.

There’s a newish branch of psychology called positive psychology. One of its leading proponents is Martin Seligman. Briefly, positive psychology is working to our strengths. Rather than spin around in circles lamenting our deficits and spending our energy trying to fill the gaps, we learn to recognize that perhaps we’re not all supposed to be the same. Maybe we could find a place to utilize our unique abilities rather than compare ourselves unfavorably with others.

Societies are less rigid than last century. We can rightly look at people’s “quirks” differently. Those who might have been called “dreamers” in the rigidly scientific, left-brained world of a generation ago are possibly the creative innovators of today (if their self-confidence survived the school system). Those who were labelled “dummies” might have been dyslexic. The survivors from that lot found creative ways to adapt — because in order to get by, they had to think outside the box (there is no box!). In fact, they’ve done so well that they are far over-represented amongst the world’s billionaires. Of late we have done well in ensuring many of the “-isms” and labels of yesteryear are seen for the rich diversity that they are.

Can we take this principle of positive psychology and apply it on a national or global scale? When we have a shortage of people able to lead others, what might be a positive way of looking at the situation? What is being asked of us? Could it be that we as a collective are ready and able to bring forth our own leadership from within — to take personal responsibility for the state of affairs around us? It is clear that many are not. There are people who use and abuse others, whose moral actions are somewhat lacking. Yet when we look at the attitudinal shifts that have occurred in the last couple of generations, we might conclude that individuals are rapidly coming into their own. When I was young, there was not much scope for doubting the expertise of prominent others. Science reigned supreme in our schooling, medical practitioners could not be wrong, the war machine had its way, teachers were experts and the clergy were infallible.

Asian woman sounding a white vuvuzela on a blurred crowd background

Today things are different. Many of us take claims of expertise with a pinch of salt. We are discerning. We will think for ourselves before we promote someone else’s truths. Now we have people insisting on food and medicines that aren’t the products of pharmaceutical companies, who question immunisations, look for second opinions, find fault in priests and politicians, decide for themselves whether “progress” is right, who argue against destroying the earth for economic gain. I’m sorry to say, Gen Y, that apathy wasn’t the main problem with the boomers. We were under the thumb of experts and simply not thinking for ourselves. But we have all come a long way in a relatively short period of time. People will no longer be repressed politically. Workers who are micromanaged will more readily argue or walk out. Environmental abusers will have their day in court. Corrupt politicians and media magnates will be accountable. Abusive priests will fall.

We are evolving before our very eyes. I’d like us to consider that — instead of bewailing the lack of leadership in our culture — we should treat this phenomenon as we would if we, or someone we loved, lacked a certain skill. Compensate. See the positive. If I lack patience, I can accept that I am quick and good at keeping things moving. If I’m not so swift upstairs, I can accept that getting things done is as valid as stringing thoughts together. If my culture lacks leadership, I can bemoan the status quo and wait for someone to save us all… or I can just get on with taking responsibility for my own life. And when I’m practised at that, maybe I can lend a hand next door. Or start that self-insurance cooperative with my friends and relatives that I was thinking about. And maybe, while I have so much adrenaline pumping about those developers, I’ll run for local council and put a stop to clearing that forest. In fact, if my government doesn’t start focusing on social justice and moral rectitude instead of micromanaging the economy, I might just start speaking up a bit more…

“So, what is it that you’re waiting for someone else to do that you could be doing yourself?”

Thanks to Jesse Clockwork for this Flickr Creative Commons image.