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Leadership and Vision

“Remember the difference between a boss and a leader; a boss says “Go!” – a leader says “Let’s go!” — E.M. Kelly

Unlike Kelly, Henry Miller is inclined to point the way instead of accompanying people; but both authors are clearly suggesting that there is somewhere to go. Miller said, “The real leader has no need to lead – he is content to point the way.” The message of interest here is that there is somewhere to go, a mission; and the leader needs to know where that is. Leadership literature generally stresses the importance of having a vision, a clear sense of where the leader is headed. This vision takes the form of a mission, a destination that is pursued with energy and passion. You are “here” and are going “there.” Of course, “there” is a good place to be, better than “here.” Leadership, then, implies movement, a shift in the situation or circumstances. Leadership success is reaching the destination, achieving the mission, getting the job done.

It’s interesting to consider alternative paradigms to explain the phenomenon of leadership and leaders. At a minimum, the current paradigm is directional and future oriented. Leadership moves from “here,” the present and less desired condition, to “there,” the more desired future condition. The leader has the knowledge, skills, and ability to “cause” the movement, the change in conditions. The current paradigm is action and change oriented. Action leads to change and that change is attributable, in part, to the leader. What if leadership were alternatively understood as a protective phenomenon? Instead of leading people anywhere, leaders simply help people avoid screwing up and prevent failure.

First, the would-be leader affiliates with people who are interested in benefits and opportunities similar to those of interest to the would be leader. You can call this the what’s-in-it-for-me” principle. It may be more money, freedom, winning the Super Bowl, safer streets, greener grass, happy children, or whatever works for a particular group of people.

Next, if the WIIFM principle is operational in the group, leadership turns on the Pooling Principle. Here, group members pool or converge their talents, skills, abilities, resources, and whatever else they can bring to the task of actualizing the collective WIIFM. To maximize the shared benefit of the Pooling Principle, one or more group members are usually designated to manage the In/Out Principle. If an individual adds to the Pooling Principle, he is In and if not, he is Out. New group members are recruited and ineffective group members are eliminated, to the end of maximizing the Pooling Principle.

Here comes the leader. He/she is not necessarily someone with more to add to the Pooling Principle than anyone else. Rather, the leader has special skills and abilities that enable him to recognize whatever jeopardizes the WIIFM Principle. Success is a product of group action. The group will be however successful it can be, assuming it does not screw up or fail. Preventing that is the job of the leader; and as you know, some people are very good at protecting others from their own inattention or incompetence.

Is this a good alternative leadership paradigm? It may or may not be. The cool thing is that it shows that an alternative paradigm is possible. If one is possible, more are likely at hand.

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