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Leaders and followers.

It’s Not a Leadership Crisis

Nov. 18, 2022
Reshaping civilization around stimuli and impulses, without any context of social or historical duty, has made us anxious and listless, and we yet do not wish to be led away from that.

Sometimes a topic emerges organically from events, and a writer or editor has to decide whether it’s significant enough to offer an opinion about it. That happened here a few months back when Russia invaded Ukraine. Other times, a subject lingers and becomes pervasive to everything, and commenting about it is not so urgent but may help to stake out one’s own position. That happened in October when inflation was acknowledged to be the “crisis” we all knew it to be a year ago.

This being election season, the subject of leadership is more of the pervasive type, a matter about which there is not much doubt or even disagreement: we need leadership. At the same time, it’s apparently a subject that is growing in importance to many, many people; otherwise, it would not be a subject that consultants punch up into so many political slogans and ads and sound bites.

And yet, the examples of leadership now on display in the world seem to demand our focus, whether it’s those seemingly invincible autocrats provoking the world into economic or actual warfare, or the democratically elected officials who ignore their voters under the persuasion or threats of “experts” in business or science, or global activists.

If I allow that there is some emerging “crisis” of leadership, it has to be mentioned that leadership – how to recognize it, how to demonstrate it – has been a subject of business consulting and academics, and media, for decades. Ask any M.B.A. you know. He or she typically will have an explanation ready when a business fires its management team, or some parliamentary government fails, because the qualities of leadership have been codified for them.

Sources may differ, but a standard reference will tell you that leadership is evident by various salient personal attributes: willingness to listen, perseverance, honesty, selflessness, decisiveness, trust, and integrity. These are qualities meant to celebrate consistency, or constancy, in public behavior. In recent decades we’ve been scolded into ignoring how various individuals have failed to uphold these standards in their private lives, or that we must allow for the demands of individuals in a public position, and that legal and regulatory standards must be practical, not idealistic. I think such reframing is unfair to those of us who would be led.

Surely these are high standards on which to be measured, but am I expected to feign confidence in the leadership ability of someone I know lacks a particular personal strength?

I would be confident if I knew that the people I vote for, or work for, or commit my trust, will demonstrate all these virtues all the time. In truth I cannot know if that’s true, and demanding proof of those qualities is unreasonable, or at least unfeasible. If we have a crisis of leadership, how could we be expected to have avoided it?

Answering that question is simple: we do have a leadership crisis, and we cannot avoid it, because the summary of those seven qualities makes it clear that a leader is one who can overcome human inconsistency and temporal obstacles. A leader is not one who can be allowed some slack, but who can uphold those ideals when facts and circumstances change. And leadership can be proven when his or her followers drop their opposition or indifference in the realization that a better alternative has been shown.

In short, a primary reason we have a leadership crisis is that we have a prevalence of individualism. We want our obligations simplified, our requests expedited, and our impulses rewarded. Thankfully, we’re not subjected to autocrats or militarists, but reshaping our modern civilization around consumerism without any context of social or historical duty has promoted bad habits and bad behavior, and we do not wish to be led away from those – and that will be a crisis too.

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)