The definition of leadership continues to change, like everything else, but this is one of the factors that affect society the most. What do we expect from our leaders? Who are our leaders? and How did our society change because of or as a factor of the change in leadership?
All these questions came front and center for me a few days ago, as I was listening to The Adam and Dr. Drew show episode #368: Leadership. Since then, I’ve started to ponder the different types of “leaders” I’ve had in my life and how they’ve molded me. And ultimately, I have wondered if I am the kind of leader that I’ve grown to appreciate and respect. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
What do we as a society expect from our leaders?
The obvious answer is: to lead. But how do we want them to lead? I look at the churches, and keep hearing the same thing over and over: Do what the priest/preacher/rabbi says to do, not what they do. For myself, this is worst kind of leader. I don’t want to be told what to do by somebody that’s not walking the walk. I like the talk-the-talk, AND walk-the-walk kind of leader. I also expect the leader/teacher/coach/politician/advise-giving-person to provide advice and suggestions, and even a set of rules, that, if followed, will make me a better person, a better employee, a better human.
So, I expect them to walk the walk, and set strict rules of what they expect of us. That’s how it was before, before the coaches getting fired for being strict and working us to the bone. This is not the case anymore. Today, we have coaches that cannot do their jobs because they’re “too tough” on the athletes, so they get fired. That is the society we’re living in today. So what do we, as a society, expect from our leaders? We expect them to lead the way we want them to lead, not the way they should lead to get the results we thought we wanted. We’re ok with getting a medal for participation anymore.
Who are our leaders?
Depends at which level you’re looking. Our teachers are expected to follow a set of rules and curriculum that their leaders have seen isn’t working, instead it’s producing illiterate kids. WHY? I would award it to the No-Kid-Left-Behind policy. Really! We should leave kids behind that have not mastered the basic skills necessary to move on. It is only a disadvantage to the kid if she gets promoted to the next level without mastering the skills in her current level. She’ll* be even further behind, and now, the gap between what she knows and what she needs to know is even greater. Tell me how this is an advantage? Tell me how this benefits the kid?
But if a teacher leaves a kid behind, the student is made to think that it’s not her fault, but it is the teacher’s! The kid, based on every other class she’s taken, she knows that she’s good at all things school related. When it comes to the leader, the teacher, she is going to get fired because she couldn’t “teach” the kid, and her class has scored poorly in the standardized tests! But is it really about the teacher? Or is it the teaching environment we have created from trying to make everyone feel special and important?
Do we let them do their jobs?
In the day and age of getting rewards for participation, and focusing on everybody feeling included, and not hurting anyone’s feelings for not being able to make the team, and for firing a coach because she/he’s too tough on the athletes, what are we actually achieving with this?
We have turned our society from high-achievers to participants. We’re participating in international math competitions now, but not winning. We’re participating in international competitions but we’re not even placing. Our society has changed as a factor of this rewarding mediocrity. Medals and awards used to mean you worked really hard, harder than anybody else in your class/group, and you were rewarded for it. Medals and awards used to mean something. Now every kid/adult gets a participation award. This makes me angry. I think that it’s time that we actually make it a desirable thing to reward the exceptional again. If my kid came in 10th in her class, I want her to know that, and I want her to work harder next semester. If she’s done her best and she gets 10th place, then that’s perfectly fine. I might have to find a better way for her to learn. But if she’s given a medal for participation and she can do a lot better than that but she doesn’t, where’s her motivation to work harder next time? What is she going to get for trying harder? The same reward as for participation. What if she has it in her to go deep into the field and eventually win a Nobel Prize? Would she even pursue the field if she feels like there’s no reward at the end of the journey? When everybody is special, nobody is. We’ve become a society where everyone is special, and nobody actually is, and nobody wins anymore. Not really.
We’ve created a society where doing the minimum is the new standard. That’s all we need to get participation awards!
You ask: How do we break out of the mediocrity rut we’re in? Stop rewarding it! Stop rewarding participation. Competition is healthy, and it fosters innovation. Having a big win gives us the motivation to work hard towards it, and other big goals. Having that reward be RARE and UNIQUE matters a lot, to the winners and to the losers. If we ever want to come out of the mediocrity bubble we’ve pushed ourselves into, we’re going to need to differentiate between winners and losers.
This whole “everyone is special” mentality has affected me too. I am cringing when I write the word “losers”, fearing the implied hurt feelings of the losers. But that should stop! If I lost at something, I do not want a participation medal! THAT is insulting to me, but more insulting to the winners! Yes, I participated. OMG, I got out of bed and showed up. I should get a reward for that? We don’t get rewarded for just showing up at work. We get acknowledged and rewarded for work well done. We get fired for just showing up! How are we justifying teaching this to our kids?
How has our society changed?
There are no rewards for excellence anymore. We award everyone equally… Teams are great, but groups are not. Groups have the “group mentality” and “mob issues” to deal with, and we’re getting farther and farther away from being led by a true leader and closer and closer to being led by the mob. Point in fact: the 2016 Republican nomination is supported by the heavy voice of the mob, the mediocrity society that we’ve created. The mob gained a voice because of the lack of quality and educated leadership at every level, from our schools to our city and state level to our business offices. I don’t think that the nominee is a leader! I think he’s part of the mob. There are no leadership qualities about him. We can pluck any of his supporters from the crowd, put them on the stump, and we’ll get the same rhetoric and same results. In my humble opinion, this is a direct result of rewarding mediocrity, of telling everyone that they’re special, and that their opinions, no matter how erroneous and steeped in non-facts, are important and they matter.
Some people are shocked that the republicans picked that person as their nominee. I am not. I am surprised that it’s the first time it happened. We were almost there with the 2008 Republican VP nomination. That was a mob advocate. That was an advocate for mediocrity and for making mediocrity the standard for the entire society. That was the first public time we saw the head of the beast called mediocrity poke out from under the floor boards. 8 years later, and we have let the mob run wild. And no, it is not OK to reward people for NOT reading, and for plagiarizing, and for being louder than anybody else in the room. These are traits that we used to look down upon when we were valuing leadership, not mob leaders.
Education is important! Rewarding excellence should matter, unless we’re ready to be ruled by the mob, and the uneducated mob at that. The entire system has become flawed. From our schools where we allow kids to pass a grade when they shouldn’t, from our media where we allow media outlets to promote and focus on infotainment instead of news that affect us all, we have become ruled by the “bread and circuses” that are meant to numb us into subservience and consumerism.
Leadership matters! Leadership inspires people to become better. Well, not all people. Some people will ignore good advice even when it’s obvious that they should follow it. There’s a saying that goes something like this: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. Leadership doesn’t mean the boss/teacher/politician, or the person that’s in charge. Your boss might not be a good leader. Your boss might not even be a good boss. Your boss might be the person that the company thought least threatening to the status quo. That is not a good example of leadership.
Anyone has the potential of being a good leader, and show leadership qualities. Leadership is meant to inspire. Leadership is meant to make you think and make you make better decisions based on the information you were given. Your boss shows leadership when she/he inspires you and guides you on the path to becoming a better person, a higher skilled employee, a better human. Your sports coach shows leadership when, if following her/his advice and routines, your results improve!
Let’s go back to rewarding leadership in thought and practice. Let’s go back to teaching kids that competition is healthy, and that they should want to win, and that there are plenty of lessons in losing, lessons that need to be learned. Let’s learn our lesson from this foray into the unimaginable that feelings matter, and let’s focus on the feelings we want to promote in our society: respect, appreciation for art and culture, appreciation for a good book, appreciation for learning, and an appreciation for winning, and what it takes to win. Let us go back to using critical thinking and common sense! These two are lacking from our current society.
So, What is missing in Leadership? The answer should be obvious by now. When you have a population that is taught to accept and promote mediocrity, your leaders are going to be mediocre as well. To have true leadership, the kind that would inspire us to make effective and positive changes in our personal and work lives, we’d have to change what we teach our society it means to win. I think it’s time to focus again on quality, not quantity.
And ultimately, am I the leader that would inspire me? I think that because of my parents, certain teachers, and clients, that I have chiseled myself into a good boss. The leadership aspect of my being the boss is something that my interns/employees/clients should comment on. But I do make it a point to keep learning, to keep improving myself, to being fair and equatable, to instill pride in one’s work and respect into anyone I encounter. I fight for education, and equality, and I don’t shy away from holding people responsible for their actions. Change will not happen if we sit on the sidelines and let the mob continue to drown us all out.
The mob needs to be elevated with education, with responsibilities, with actual achievements that would make everyone proud of being human, that would focus their energy into bettering themselves and our society, instead of putting others down. We shouldn’t suppress the mob. We should direct their energy into positive endeavors for themselves and the society, and we should reward individual achievement. We will all benefit from an educated society. This requires leadership, the kind of leadership that we’ve not been willing to let us lead for a while.