Don’t Be a George!

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I spoke this morning at the Future of Leadership event in Boise, Idaho on the subject of The Yin and Yang of Complete Leadership. My theme was the need for us to regain healthy balance between the complimentary aspects of introverted and extroverted leadership styles. As a starting point for the discussion, I chose George III of England, a notoriously bad example of leadership. George’s leadership directly contributed to the need and desire for the American colonies to get out from under his oppressive reign. As a leader, he utterly failed. We would do well to learn from three of his key mistakes:

The problem of abstraction. George was way too detached from the people he was supposed to lead and serve. It was far too easy for him to continue to levy taxes from people he didn’t know so far away across the Atlantic. It’s easy for us, like George, to be guilty of what Simon Sinek calls “the problem of abstraction.” Layoffs as a means of balancing the books fails to treat human beings with the dignity and respect they deserve.
The problem of positional leadership. George, like many leaders, saw leadership as a right according to his title. We follow positional leaders because we have to, because they are the boss. They are typically quick to tell us, “because I said so.”
The problem of flying solo. George was notorious for not listening to his advisors. When we don’t listen to the wisdom of others around us, we do dumb things, like continuing to increase the tax burden on the American colonies.
We need leaders today who understand their interdependence on other leaders. None of us has everything that it takes to lead well. We’re always better together than flying solo. We have to do better than merely leading from position or rank. Our leadership needs to be about authenticity and character. We can’t treat people as non-people and lead well. They’re not just names or employee numbers on a spreadsheet; they’re real living people with families and lives that need to matter to us.

George didn’t get it. His failure to lead well cost Great Britain the American colonies. When the continental congress met in Philadelphia, the main focus of their conversation was the myriad ways George’s leadership was no longer tolerable.

The lesson for all leaders: Don’t be a George!

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