Thursday, December 1, 2005

55. Do we follow non-leaders

I am not much of a fan of reality television; however I must admit to watching the last two seasons of ‘The Apprentice.' Even though Donald Trump represents most of what I am against, I enjoy the business/marketing plans executed each week by competing teams. It is similar to the computer simulated "Marketing Game" that teams in my graduate school participated in to test marketing plans in competition against each other. On ‘The Apprentice,' the losing team has one of its members fired. The last person standing earns a job with Donald Trump.

I found a recent episode to be disheartening and with it, I considered the differences in leadership values. One team had arranged to purchase some megaphones to use in the promotion of their product. The other team, which waited too long to place a similar order, essentially, and consciously, stole the identity of the first team and purchased the megaphones from underneath them. The retail store, of course, did not know one team from the other and mistakenly sold the megaphones to the wrong team.

Leadership is a highly sought-after quality in employees- and businesses, as well as business schools, invest heavily in the "teaching" of leadership. My first class in graduate school was "Leadership and Teamwork," and I also participated in Leadership Lorain County. Inevitably the discussion circulates around what makes a great leader, that is, what are the leadership qualities that we all envy? The study includes leadership styles, techniques and the lives of great leaders.

The discussion is an interesting one; consider the different leadership styles of our founding fathers, presidents and leaders of other nations. Likewise, consider the leadership styles of the progressives and revolutionaries such as Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi. Finally, sports fans will note the similar success of very different coaches, such as Bobby Knight, Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski.

The success of very different leadership styles might cause one to wonder, or ask, what makes a great leader. For if both authoritative and empowering styles prove successful in the same business by different individuals, how can one be determined to be better than the other? Leadership training can be equally confusing, for one theory is to be a "risk-taker," while the other will be conservative, urging individuals to "stick to their core values." We learned to be "detail-oriented," while at the same time, "not to sweat the small stuff." Some say success lies in "outworking" your competitors, while others urge the healthiness of a balanced lifestyle.

I think one of the biggest mistakes in understanding leadership is the perception that those with power, either authoritative or financial, know what leadership is. It is similar to believing that the majority is right about an issue just because it is in the majority. Some will say that people want to be led- to be told what to do, what to think. However, just because people are following, it does not necessarily mean they are being led. I think powerful people sometimes begin to be viewed as leaders simply because of the steady flow of demands and requests they receive and decisions they make. There is a difference between running an organization and leading one. Those that have experienced both clearly understand the difference.
From week to week on ‘The Apprentice,' it is interesting to watch each competitor's perception of leadership as they attempt to lead his or her team to victory. But the fact is that leadership is an inconsistent idea. Often we see a leader ask for input from his or her team. When the team wins, it is because the leader took the advice of his or her teammates (empowered them). When the team loses, the same act is viewed as being indecisive and weak. Teams that argue and win are "engaging in healthy debate;" those that lose are "selfish and unmanageable," even if the difference between the two are but a few (statistically insignificant) dollars. Apparently the only solution to the no-win situation is to win.

Donald Trump and his "loyal advisers" (Bill and Carolyn) both found the act of "theft and impersonation" to be a clever move on the part of that team that swooped in and swiped the megaphones- despite the fact that that might have been the difference between one team winning and the other losing. I personally found the act deplorable, and to me it demonstrated the type of actions these individuals might engage in when desperate for success. Trump apparently only cares about winning and losing; I would have fired them both, on the spot.

Two quotes from my 2006 Monthly Planner aptly summarize my perception of the situation. Robert Freeman is quoted to say, "Character is not made in a crisis- it is only exhibited," while Lily Tomlin notes, "The trouble with the rat race is that even when you win, you're still a rat."

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