Leadership Talk: Why Leadership Is Messy

Considering the challenges of top management teams it’s a wonder people still want to become leaders. Of course, along with promotion comes the salary, the perks and the prestige.

Whenever I am coaching in organizations, I am privy to the challenges, the debates, the failures and the stress that goes along with leading people.

Leadership is messy. It’s like a contact sport, where people get hurt. Resentments escalate and lead to sabotage and misuse of power.

Which leads me to believe that leadership is not for everyone, nor should it be.

On the other hand, if up-and-coming leaders see only strife and misery among top executives, they will be motivated to climb the promotional ladder for only one reason: money and power.

To quote Anthony F. Smith, author of The Taboos of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2007): “There are many, many perks and responsibilities to leadership; without an in-depth, brutally honest, and well-rounded understanding of what the job entails, how can any young person with high potential know whether he or she even wants to play the game?”

Unfortunately, leadership is still poorly understood. Despite the billions of dollars spent on leadership development around the world, and despite the plethora of business books and CEO stories published every year, we can be naive about what really goes on in the upper offices.

The reason is simple: We are unwilling to examine what it really takes to lead. Part of the problem is the expansion of the term “leadership” to refer to anyone who is relatively skilled, holds a position of some authority and has a modicum of charisma.

We talk about servant leaders who influence quietly, leading from the heart or by example, or passionate, irreverent, inclusive and visionary leaders.

We fail to discuss the importance of:

  • Power
  • Intelligence
  • Self-centeredness
  • Political gamesmanship
  • Double standards
  • Arrogance and ego
  • Competitive fire
  • Manipulation

These are the unspoken leadership taboos, according to Smith in his book about Taboos, and I have to say I agree with him. That is, these things need to be discussed out in the open if we’re ever going to get a real understanding of what good leadership is about.

Not all of these taboos are necessary evils. Like most things in life, it’s not what you do but the way that you do it. As long as leaders have strong competitive drives and egos, we might as well look honestly at both the positive and negative sides, no? More to come.

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Thanks, see ya around the Web, maybe over on LinkedIn?

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