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Presidents and their Influence on Leadership

by Nov 5, 20083 comments

I have a theory about leadership (many, actually, but just one to share now!). I think CEOs and other leaders take their cue for their own leadership style from the current CEO of America – its President. If the prevailing mood is one of fear, power, partisanship, separateness, competition, Darwinism, greed, secrecy, autocracy, bias and manipulation, and this is acted out through the Executive Branch of the US Administration, then other leaders see this as the “approved model” for their own behavior, and behave accordingly. It seems to me, that for the last decade we have been locked in this paradigm, which I call “The Old Story of Leadership”.

This of course, leads to separateness – blacks and whites, rich and poor, employed and unemployed, Christian and Muslim, health-insured and not, for us and against us, red states and blue ones, and so on. America has voted in what may have been the most emotional and partisan (separateness thinking) election in recent memory. But, America voted with hope and optimism for a return to greater unity (oneness thinking), a sense of our own potential to serve the world, that has rarely been fulfilled in recent memory.

As a result, I forecast a huge change in leadership style. I am seeing it already in my work. In a short period I am traveling through Sweden, Germany, Calgary, Cabo San Lucas, Louisville, Fort Worth and Denver, and in every case, I have heard a growing cry for a different leadership style, which I call “The New Story of Leadership” – one that we have been teaching for decades, and which may resonate more powerfully now than at any time since we founded The Secretan Center. Followers have a greater yearning than ever to feel inspired and hopeful, and feeling this way leads to high performance – for corporations and for nations.

Some, who cling to the old story of leadership, think that it is weak to lead with compassion and love, but Michael Bischoff reminded me recently, in a comment he posted on this blog, of Martin Luther King’s words, “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” And Doris Kearns’ brilliant biography of Abraham Lincoln, “Team of Rivals”, describes the power and possibility of inclusive leadership so incisively.

A brilliant piece by Shoshana Zuboff titled “Obama’s Victory: A Consumer-Citizen Revolt” can be found here

So, let us commit to being leaders who inspire others to greatness through love AND power, compassion and truth, courage and integrity, inclusion and collaboration, and a vision of outcomes that benefits us all. Regardless of who or what we lead – we can change the world.