The idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful leader has shown itself to be a dangerous fallacy. It isn’t possible to know everything, and power is complicated by nuance: where people have freedom of thought, no one single truth can prevail. A Leaders knowledge is an approximation only; a course summary of reality. That is why despots rule via a process of simplification, dumbing everything down to three- or four-word soundbites and doing away with worrisome concepts such as human rights, ethics and empathy. It’s the only way they can keep a grip on power. The result can be a broad brush, dogma-driven, tyranny. This is what we are experiencing in many parts of the world today.
This is not how we should run our countries and it certainly isn’t how we should run our companies or lead our teams. Does the world really need charismatic leaders? Does your company need an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful CEO? And does your team need a leader that sets themselves up as an expert at everyone’s job, with the power to destroy on a whim? Wouldn’t we rather that our leaders chose to show us the way, clear the way, and get out of the way instead?
When leaders have a large span of control, they probably need to stop trying to control anything. Instead, they should pivot towards being listeners and supporters. Chief Operating Officers typically have their fingers in many pies without having the recipe for any of them. Only the very best manage to make a success of this role; too many others simply interfere and spoil the broth. That is not what we need or want.
We are increasingly looking to our leaders to provide hope, inspiration, ideas, and a sense of direction. We don’t need them to be gurus. They don’t need to have all the answers or wield all the tools of power. We mostly want them to show the way, clear the way, and get out of the way. Maybe we should stop looking at Leadership as a position and more as a responsibility; the power of leadership should not lie in personal investiture, but in the ability to remove roadblocks, open doors, and inspire people to walk through them.
The way we have developed and rewarded our leaders in the past, may have been appropriate for the needs of the past (although even that is questionable), but we now need to rewrite the narrative about what it means to be a leader.