Lots of institutions – like schools, companies, pundits, etc. – talk about leadership to the point of dogma. At best, this is misguided. At worst, this is dangerous.
What I find problematic is that these narratives imply that leadership is an end in itself. As in, you go to school to become a better leader. Companies, say they’re trying to recruit their next generation of leaders.
Besides, I don’t think “leaders” are what folks are really after. What they’re really after is value. They want people to make things beautiful or make beautiful things. They want people to make their companies, communities, and customers better than they were before. They care about the value, not the means to create it (assuming it’s ethical).
Leadership is merely a means to the end of value creation, but it’s not treated that way. Leadership is heralded as an end in itself. With all the books, courses, degrees, and gurus you think, “I’ve gotta be a leader!”
I take this issue (I acknowledge that it’s a subtlety) seriously because leadership without value creation is dangerous.
To be a leader, a leader needs followers. Ideally, people follow a leader because they are doing something valuable. That’s fine.
However, when you place leadership above value creation (making things beautiful or making beautiful things) it incentivizes people to attract followers even when they aren’t doing something of value.
When they aren’t doing something of value, leaders trying to attract followers tend to do ugly things – coercion, deceit, exploitation – because at the end of the day, if someone who aspires to be a leader isn’t doing something of value they have to make it appear as if they’re doing something of value or force people to follow them.
Of course, it’s helpful to have good leaders when trying to do something of value with a group of people. However, the point is not to be a leader, the point is to do something of value.
That’s why I stand behind the statement “The World Doesn’t Need More Leaders,” because what we need more of is people who create value, regardless of whether they are “leaders”. Leaders just happen to help create it sometimes. By making leadership a destination in itself, not only are we distracting from the true goal of value creation, we’re incentivizing dangerous behavior.