Friday, June 19, 2009

Leadership

I know it is all the rage, but I dislike the very idea of leadership. For me it is an idea dangerously devoid of content. I don’t care whether you are a leader or not. I want to know what direction you want to go.

Victor Hugo said, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” I don’t want to follow someone. I want them to explain their ideas so I can decide on my own to go in the same direction that they are going. I believe in the power of ideas, not the power of personality.

I have an instinctive suspicion of charisma. I have felt, I think all of us have felt, the power of some people’s personality. Some people have the ability to convince you that they are right just by the power of their personality. I think that’s dangerous. We don’t even need to look at some of the more notorious historical cases where this caused a tragedy. Even under mundane circumstances it can be awkward.

I read that during the mid-1990s, the Republican leadership absolutely dreaded meetings between Newt Gingrich, leader of the Republican majority in Congress, and President Bill Clinton. Even as strong as Gingrich was in his principles, the pull of Clinton’s personality was so strong that (at least for the moment) President Clinton would convince Gingrich to make agreements that he would later have to repudiate. The catch phrase of the Republican leadership became, “Tell Newt to say no!”

A few years ago I sat in on a group interview for someone applying for a senior position at Central Dallas Ministries. The applicant gave the best interview I have ever seen and absolutely blew the room away. I didn’t see even the smallest misstep in the interview, but I also realized that I was overwhelmed by the power of the applicant’s personality. When it came time to comment on the applicant, after everyone else had raved about them, I limited myself to suggesting that we carefully fact check their resume. We did and found numerous false statements and exaggerations.

I didn’t know about them and didn’t expect to find them, but I did know that my judgment was impaired.

So I’m not especially impressed by leaders. I’m impressed by people who know the right way to go. I am distressed by the increasing tendency to have leadership training. I don’t want people trained to lead. I want people who know the right way to go.

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