Leadership is a topic so loaded with opinions that it's difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. I'm certain I've heard every silly theory about what constitutes excellent leadership in my 45 years as a business owner, management consultant and executive coach.
From the overly simplistic "tell 'em what to do" to obfuscated Eastern theories based on the utterances of ancient monks speaking from shrouded mists of time. From the "born to lead" to the "minute manager," the only certainty is an obdurate ignorance and an unflinching arrogance that cements it in place.
Effective leadership is simple and complex at the same time. It is simple because it's based on a natural human connection. It's complex for the same reason. Human beings are complex and emotional, regardless of how steadfastly we insist that rational thinking will always triumph.
Now we have the ultimate challenge to the question of effective leadership. There is an underlying populist trend toward the need for a "strong man leader." And from the point of view of an objective observer, (and I'm not one) global conditions make this need understandable.
Enormous global challenges face the human species. Is the climate already in non-recoverable destruction? Is one nation responsible for the failures of another nation and the resultant migration of millions of displaced people? Does immigration really increase the risk of terrorism at home? How much individual responsibility does one have for the misfortunes of others? How can people with obsolete skills sets survive in a technological era? In a manufactured milieu of fear and scarcity, how far should one go to protect one's self and loved ones?
In effect, these questions boil down to one major underlying fear. With the world in such turmoil, how can the individual feel secure knowing full well that he or she has no control over these threat-laden circumstances?
Or put more succinctly, what can one person do?
From here it's a short logical step to wanting a strong man with the power to protect and defend. In the U.S., there's also the vulnerability of a national psyche that promotes the idea that a hero can arise to take on all the challenges and make things right; from the iconic cowboy who single-handedly cleans out the den of thieves in a little town on the prairie to the comic book Super-heroes that populate today's movies.
Now we have just such a comic book hero in the White House. Some of us can see his façade even with the cover of a propaganda machine, even Edward Bernays, the father of modern propaganda himself, couldn't have imagined it. But some still refuse to acknowledge this national fantasy
I can blame it on the two-party, winner takes all, political system that has grown to obsolescence in our pluriform society. I can blame it on a national neurosis born from our denial of the original sins of genocide and enslavement that this country was built on. I can blame it on a failing educational system that long ago forgot its primary goal is to create adults with critical thinking skills. Finally, I can blame it on the final stages of the corporate takeover of government that started in the Reagan years and has finally come to fruition with this bumbling excuse for a CEO in the White House today.
Maybe it was all of these reasons. Maybe it was none.
I am just one person looking on as the wheels of government grind on, becoming less and less a mechanism of, for and by the people and more like a corporate machine that grinds up natural resources for the private benefit of fewer and fewer people.
The question of leadership has become moot. There is only one important question here. Will the noise and din made by those conscious among us wake up those in blissful slumber?
I remember a joke about the stubborn husband who finally conceded an argument with his wife when she hit him in the head with a 2x4. "Well, you never explained it that way before."
Hopefully, this story has such a happy ending.