I thought we might spend this episode having some fun. Sometimes we hear things from famous people that sound like something useful and maybe even important. When we do, we might do well to ask whether what is said is actually valid or if we just think it is reasonable because someone famous said it. Perhaps even famous people are as capable of silly talk as the rest of us. Let’s consider a few examples, knowing that what we say is as likely to be silly talk as it would were we famous.

Let’s start with this from Sophocles.

“What you cannot enforce, Do not command.”

The key concepts here are “enforce,” meaning to cause compliance, and “command,” meaning to demand compliance.” Another way of expressing Sophocles’ maxum then, is, “Don’t tell someone to do something unless you can make him do it.”

Now from John Quincy Adams.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

This is a truly interesting definition of “leader.” From Adams’ point of view, deciding whether someone is a leader is based on analyzing his (or her) actions. The definition doesn’t preclude using other criteria or approaches; but those included in the definition are sufficient to identify a leader, according to Adams.

To find a leader using Adams’ definition, qualities such as charisma, personality, intelligence, compassion, decisiveness, or similar traits are not relevant since only “actions” are pertinent. Further, only actions that inspire others are of immediate interest. This means that one can only designate someone as a leader by first identifying at least one other person who was inspired by the actions of the person being designated. What’s more, the person needs to have been inspired “to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.”

Setting aside the problem with being sure what “dream more” and “become more” actually mean and how one can identify these events (or processes) in other people, both have to be present, along with “learn more” and “do more.” The point is that all four outcomes need to be present and attributable, through inspiration, to the actions of the person being designated as a leader.

The task now is to identify leaders. It doesn’t seem appropriate to include parents or other close relatives since they already have a special designation and classifying them as “leaders” tends to trivialize their roles and status. The same point may also hold for teachers and other personal mentors. Given those exclusions, identify actions of others that have inspired you to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. Make a list, with the action on the left and the inspirational person’s name on the right. Keep in mind that the action needs to have inspired you to dream, learn, do, and become. When you finish your list, make another list including actions that have inspired other people to dream, learn, do, and become. Combining the two lists gives you your “leaders I know about” list.

When using the suggested list making procedure, it seems likely that most people would be personally aware of very few leaders, using Adams’ definition. Now repeat the list making procedure, only including actions that are currently inspiring you or others to dream today, learn today, do today, and become today. Do you have a leader in your life today? Most people probably don’t, at least not one who is alive and working in their town.

From Tom Landry.

“Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.”

This brings to mind “manipulation” and “brainwashing.” Sure, it also brings to mind “parenting” and “management;” but it hardly brings to mind “leadership.” Fred Smith proposed a softer version of the idea when he said, “Leadership is getting people to work for you when they are not obligated and Dwight D. Eisenhower put forth a similar idea with this definition, “Leadership: the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

The notion is that leadership is characterized by one person (the leader) enticing or motivating someone else (the follower) to do something that he would not otherwise do were it not for “leadership.” The question is whether the effect (doing something) requires the cause (leadership.) Several more obvious causes are readily available. People do things they might otherwise not do because it’s their job, they are getting paid, they are afraid not to do it, they don’t want to disappoint a parent or perhaps the Coach, everyone else is doing it, or they determine it is in their best interest. The leader may be able to use one of these causes; but to equate such use with leadership is not reasonable, since anyone who has control of the cause can use it at will. It would be like arguing that holding a gun makes one a marksman.

This is a good time to remember Ockham’s Razor. Paul Vincent, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, points out, “Ockham’s Razor … never allows us to deny putative entities; at best it allows us to refrain from positing them in the absence of known compelling reasons for doing so.” Since there are numerous and quite obvious reasons (causes) why people frequently do things they might not otherwise do, positing “leadership” as the cause is unnecessary. It may be attributable to leadership but used in that way, leadership is little more than one of Ockham’s putative entities.

From Ralph Nadar.

“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”

This is like arguing that the function of summer is to produce more daylight, not less darkness. The key is that the function of leadership is neither to produce more leaders nor more followers. Sure, the goal of a specific person, group, or organization may be to produce more leaders, more followers, or both but the function of leadership is to lead.

As an organization successfully matures, it tends to attract more qualified people. Those associated with it tend to develop more related knowledge, their skills improve, and their effectiveness increases. Some of them may assume or be given more authority and more responsibility. A few may be seen as leaders and even fewer may move into leadership roles. Through this process, leaders emerge.

In other organizations, those in charge completely retain their authority and responsibility. The organization attracts more qualified people. Those associated with it develop more related knowledge, their skills improve, and their effectiveness increases. A few may be seen as leaders but none move into leadership roles. Those roles are filled and no new leadership roles are to be created.

The goal of some people, groups, or organizations may be to increase the number of people associated with the enterprise. More typically, the goal is to attract and retain the optimal number of people required to assure the success of the enterprise, and no more. The point is that the people are needed to enable the enterprise’s success. They aren’t needed to “follow” anyone. The idea of attracting “followers” is a non–sequitur.

The conclusion is that the activities of a leader may or may not “produce” more leaders. Whether the outcome is an increase in the number of leaders is only important if producing leaders is the goal of the enterprise. Otherwise, it is unrelated to leadership or to the effectiveness of the leaders. Nadar may have simply posited producing followers as a straw man in the interest of asserting that leadership produces leaders but whatever the reason, the assertion fails. Leadership produces leaders no more than summer increases daylight. Conditions that merely co–exist should not be confused with cause and effect.

And finally from Stephen R Covey.

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

This is a fun aphorism, especially since it doesn’t say anything useful. What’s more, it’s probably not even true. Still, it sure sounds pithy.

Suppose you are assigned the task of hiring a manager for an important project. The first applicant says, “I’m efficient in climbing the ladder of success.” You ask what that means and are told, “I have mastered being effective without wasting time or effort or expense. I’m efficient.”

You then ask for an explanation of the ladder of success and hear, “Well, it’s when you start at the bottom and climb up rung by rung. The higher you go, the more successful you are.” You ask what is being climbed up and are told, “Well, the ladder of success.”

You then scratch your head and ask, “Let me see if I have this right. You are terrific at wasting no time or effort or expense on your way to the top?” The applicant smiles and says, “You got that right; and I’m hoping you will let me use your project as my next rung.”

If you subscribe to Covey’s definition of management, you don’t need a second applicant. The first one is just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. That only leaves determining whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall. The applicant has determined that your project is his right wall. How do you think you will address that perception in the letter you send following the employment interview you just terminated?

Okay, perhaps that wasn’t Covey’s point. “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things,” may be his point. This sounds like somewhat more conventional wisdom but isn’t very helpful either. It’s likely that being able to determine that your project is the right wall isn’t your idea of doing the right things. If you are also looking for a leader, finding someone who shares your vision for your project is a better choice than someone who thinks he has a better vision for your future. The leader you need is the one who can help you get from here to there, as you climb that ladder of success together.

Silly talk or not, now you know so there you go.