It’s amazing we’ve come to this spot, but it’s not surprising. We’ve always been suckers for the path of least resistance and we’ve never really embraced the productive discomfort required by change. But still, the void of leadership that exists is signficant.
Let’s begin with two questions:
- How many truly elite leaders do you personally interact with on a weekly basis?
- How many truly elite leaders do you personally observe on a weekly basis?
If the word “elite” bothers you . . . how about “great” leaders . . . “really, really good” leaders . . . or even “effective” leaders?
It's not likely to be a big number. Some of you reading this have never worked with an elite leader. Most of you though, like me, have experienced the opposite -- an awful leader. Chances are even higher that you interact with and observe average leaders every day. Good people. Average leaders.
We’re at an odd moment in human history because we know so much and do so little with it. The gap has never been bigger between what we know and what we do. Nowhere is that a bigger problem, with more societal impact, than leadership.
That impact (good or bad, elite or average) is seen in the quality of education in our schools, the production of our businesses, the success of our teams, the prosperity of our communities, the unity of our families, the results of our elections, the direction of our nation.
At no point in time have people known, written, discussed, studied, and proclaimed more about leadership than right now. The world is drenched in the latest, greatest scientific “proof” and self-help “techniques” for how to be a leader. It's never hard to find. In fact, it's hard to avoid. Free blogs, high-priced consultants, fancy diagrams, tempting magazine headlines, time-saving apps, and plenty of advice from well-meaning friends.
And there are books. Thousands and thousands of books. Hundreds and hundreds of best-sellers. Every year a new mountain of books are written and sold on every imaginable aspect of leadership. They join the previous year's mountain of books on the same topic. And the year before that. The years and books and words and information go back forming a vast mountain range of leadership knowledge.
But it’s not working. The knowledge isn’t being converted to skill. The ideas aren’t being converted to action. Better leaders are not being produced by our (supposedly) better data. When it comes to improving leadership skills, access to information has not improved our education, not in the true purpose of the word education.
The amount of knowledge about great leadership vastly outweighs the amount of people actually being great leaders. And in my direct, daily observation working with teams, schools, and companies, it vastly outweighs the amount of people even trying to be great leaders.
That's the strange part.
We are living through the largest growth of leadership awareness, focus, emphasis, and information in human history. And at the same time we are seeing leadership practice, discipline, and skill stagnate. (Some believe leadership skill has regressed. I do not observe that to be true. We're better, but not enough.)
I don't have the answer why this has happened and continues to happen. It's probably a confluence of factors: old habits, stubborn beliefs, lack of self-awareness, institutional culture, blaming current and past generations, over-consumption of shallow media (which includes most best-selling books), and simple lack of discipline.
My focus isn't why this happened, my focus is what to do about it. I'm not interested in explanation. I'm interested in execution.
So where are the leaders? Where are the elite leaders?
Every generation believes it is smarter than the one that came before and wiser than the one that comes after. So where are all the elite leaders in older generations leading both young and old through these inevitable changes in our companies, schools, teams, and communities? Where are the elite leaders among younger generations leading both young and old into shared effort and understanding?
Before you mistake me for being overly cynical or especially critical, which I am neither, let's understand something important.
We’ve never been better in how we treat each other. We’ve never been more “good” to each other. Our companies are more diverse, our schools are more inclusive, and our society is more considerate than ever before. That counts for something. It matters. And it's a product of leadership.
We have grown as people. We’ve learned from mistakes, made corrections, apologized for mistreatment, and continue to target pervasive issues that remain a problem. Our progress cannot be denied in these areas. They deserve celebration. They also require an uncommon perspective and understanding.
So I leave you with this...
Being a good person doesn't make someone a good leader. The last thing our world needs is more good people who are average leaders. There is a mountain of average leadership in the world, mostly made up of good people. We don't need one more. Not one.
We need good people to become elite leaders. We need them in our companies, our organizations, our schools, and our governments.
Elite leaders are good people. Good people are not elite leaders. There is a difference.
It's not enough to be nice. It's not enough to care about your job. It's not enough to read leadership books. It's not enough that people like you. An elite leader demonstrates the standard and demands the standard.
The standard for leadership has gone up because the requirement has gone up. There is more noise and distraction and temptation and misdirection than ever before. The most difficult circumstances require the most skillful leadership.
The need has never been greater. The challenge has never been bigger. The stakes have never been higher.
I believe you are a good person. I also believe goodness is not an excuse for an absence of leadership.
Do the work. Lead now.
How do you close the gap between your
leadership knowledge and your leadership skill?