It has long been observed that, on no account should anyone, capable of getting themselves elected as leader, be allowed to do so.
We vaunt democracy, and yet it’s track record of producing truly great leaders is patchy at best, it has also generated some notable disasters.
Heredity has an equally patchy track record. Heredity, as a means of choosing heads of state with any real power, is pretty unfashionable in most parts of the world these days, but there is something sensible about being trained for an important role form birth. At least that bit seems to work well for Dalai Lamas, however they are not hereditary.
Achieving state leadership through violence, aggression or sheer luck has probably the worst track record of all, with most examples turning out to be totalitarians who continue to use force as a way of maintaining power. Substantially to the detriment of their populations and often, others as well.
In the corporate world there are three main routes to leadership of large businesses:
1- Appointment after rising through the ranks
2 – External appointment
3 – Being a founder.
The appointment route appears, generally to have a better track record of producing competent leaders than election, heredity or force, but the record is far from perfect.
Founders, on the other hand, in my very informal survey appear to have a rather better track record than their successors. They also have a level of innate authority that it is difficult for appointees to emulate.
In fact founders have a quality in common with those who many might agree have been the very best leaders of people. Emergence.
I have often asked groups I have been working with, who they would consider to be the greatest leaders and the answers are remarkably consistently; Ghandi and Mandela. Both of whom were emergent leaders (Mandela was later elected). Emergent in the sense that they became leaders through a passionate commitment to a cause and a knack for leadership that caused others to follow them. In fact emergent leaders have a great track record, depending on where you draw your personal lines you could include: Martin Luther King, Florence Nightingale, John Lennon, Emily Pankhust, Aung Sang Su Chi, Bob Geldof, Jamie Oliver – feel free to add your own examples in the comments below.
Emergent leaders manage to combine tremendous courage and achievement with authenticity. They lead through inspiration, empathy, example, commitment and importantly they rarely have any authority over those they lead.
This poses two interesting challenges for the rest of us:
1 – How do we allow more emergent leaders to run our corporations and countries?
2 – How do we emerge as leaders ourselves either in business or public life?
The first is fantastically difficult, which is probably why we still haven’t solved it. In fiction good leadership is often symbolised by a wise council of elders, although it is not usually clear how they came to the role. In Britain the wise council of elders role could potentially be filled by the House of Lords – if it wasn’t populated so largely through nepotism and as a reward for loyalty to the government of the day. Could a truly wise council of formerly emergent leaders (the ones who avoid assassination) also be the ones to identify emergent leaders as candidates – who could then be selected or elected in some more open plebiscite type process?
The second is far easier. We are all capable of feeling passionately about something. The shift to emergent leadership happens when we take the courage to do something about it and are inspiring, wise and humble enough that people choose to follow us.
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