In search of leadership

In search of leadership

Let me say straight out front that I am a big fan of social media. I use it daily in my work and in my personal life. Like most people I am not sure if I could do without it.

But I wonder sometimes if the proliferation of media and the ready availability of publishable opinions has killed our ability to appreciate leadership nowadays.

In the past, we viewed our public leaders from afar. We listened to their words and monitored their actions – and it was on those two elements that we judged their value and their impact.

Today, we see our leaders every day – getting out of a car, walking into a building, interacting in all situations. We are overwhelmed with the volume of coverage. As a result, we see them in all settings with all their warts exposed. And because of that we begin to judge them – not on their actions – but on those warts and their mistakes. We get so clouded by the nature of their day-to-day humanity, that it becomes hard to stop and see the effect they are having – or to give them a chance to have that effect without complaint or criticism.

In the end we get what we have attacked – a memory of failed leadership and human fallibility rather than the fondness of the impact that leader created. And we get a change in focus from potential leaders – seeking to do things that will make them appear good, rather than focusing on what is needed.

I was trying hard today to remember the last leader – nationally, or internationally – that was universally acknowledged as good.

Taking this concept to its extreme, given the new lens we place on our leaders, I wonder how many of our past iconic leaders would be as beloved or revered if they had to do what they did under a 21st century lens? Certainly JFK would have been much more scrutinized for his private life under the watchful eye of social media. Would FDR have even been elected had social media been around in his day?

Leaders are people. As such they are as flawed as the rest of us. Yet in many situations, it is the flaws in their character that enable them to take the risks, the changes or the steps necessary to create the change we need.

I fear sometimes that SM’s open access to their daily life will create a situation where we have unintentionally sanitized our leaders by attacking them for being human, and in the end making them less willing to take the risks required to push us forward – effectively eliminating scenarios where leaders have the opportunity to create true change.