A lack of leadership: Why business blocks the rise of the natural leader

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The dearth of leadership in the current business environment is not an accident but rather a feature of the post Cold-war milieu, and indeed politics and all other arenas including, and especially, business. Leadership should be seen as the man or woman who becomes the sovereign, a person who causes us to abandon our personal reasons and be bound into a collective goal, beyond petty pecuniary motivations. It is about inspiration, life and death — a grand temptation to succeed and nourish the spirit with victory and triumph over an enemy (man or otherwise) in a supernal scheme. This leader is responsible for the formation of a grand strategy linked by action towards a pinnacle of achievement, and binds you to this destiny by force of will. That is what we will constitute a leader, and everything else is merely a talented or mediocre manager. This should spark a reverie on the lives of men like Hermann, Bismarck, Napoleon, and Cromwell — not the ex-CEO of some generic technology multinational.

Treatment of the issue of lacking leadership is corollary to the presuppositions of a leader, we must need to know what the aspiration should be before we can diagnose and treat its absence. The leader by nature is charismatic and culture setting, catalysing, energetic, galvanising and polarising. Natural traits that are emblematic of leadership are imbued by birth and shaped by the need and call to action. Fear, love, distance and proximity; this balance must be struck in the followers. We must be in awe, a syncretic disposition of love and fear of a leader, our acquiescence to their requests based on the anticipation of adulation from them and fear of reprisals from disavowing their wants and wills. They bring out the best in us because the hum to the same spirit as us, thus we feel attuned to them but without the fortune of being on the same level. An executor of reality.

The contradistinction made is that of executive managers not being by necessity leaders nor even good managers per se, and rather fulfilling the tangential task of controlling and people-managing. To take chances and risks is not looked for in managers, with committees and meetings required to make even small decisions; no leader operates without advisors to be sure, but in the extreme, a true leader makes decisions alone. So the juxtaposition crystallises, a plebeian bureaucrat with the instinct for taking orders and managing underlings, and the leader who rouses the rabble to take the prize.

A CEO is a leader in title but seldom a leader in being — just as any General can be ignominious and weak, a title is no assurance to quality. What we see of late is the assumption of leadership by virtue of petty politicking and persuasion, rather than earnt and forceful ascendancy; the feminisation of work as a convivial function, rather than the prioritisation of harsh competition. There is a distinct lack of princples and personal will because the rise to the top in a business environment weeds out these aspects of the person, conforming them into generic managerial types, subservient to nebulous shareholder value. Promotion due to tenure and pliability or in best cases, a middling success.

Start-ups remain the last holdout of professional management culture, which allows some, albeit few, leaders to rise to the top, whilst maintaining actual steward qualities and leadership acumen. In these businesses we see success granted in large part due to the force of will of the founder, their quirks being something scandalous to public, as we are accustomed to a snivelling obsequiousness from our CEOs in the public sphere. For instance, Elon Musk (who manifests the semblance of a leader) contravenes the genteel expectations that a CEO must be a non-entity, a docile vessel for profit growth. This materialistic stance is anathema to launching world changing ideas and allows the perseverance of stability over experimentation — status quo by democracy.

Our ratiocination on the problem of non-existent leadership is distilled as being the promotion of men and women who succeed at activities which please the most people, rather than deliver ultimate outcomes. Frederik Barbarossa deliver Lombardy into the Holy Roman Empire through decisive leadership and not through petty politicking and currying favour. Warren Buffet speculated on economic growth. Even Jakob Fugger was worth more admiration than a money manager of Buffet’s wealth.

This leads to our constatation of the principles of leadership and seeing them in action, rather than talked about and pandered to — a business leader who transforms an industry or creates a completely new one, much to the chagrin of unbelievers. It is the farce of the toddler pretending to be a doctor, with the CEOs and executives pretending to be leaders; excellent managers mayhap, yet leaders with drive, vision, gravitas, and stature they are not. The veriest leader of a regiment in a crusade would dismay at the soft, effete manner in which modern managers approach the role of leading. This is why many of the best leaders were parvenus who forged their acumen and not born into the role and attempting to conform to exogenous expectations.

I hope then that I have demonstrated to a small degree why CEOs like Jaime Dimon, Zuckerberg, and Cook pale in comparison to actual leaders and business magnates like Ford, Rhodes, Morgan, and Edison; Thatcher even shewed that women can extend to leading men to war in the modern world. These leaders made other women and men give their entire working careers, and often lives, to an organisation due to their belief in the mission and purpose. A far cry from the turnstile careers of this century, where an organisation commoditises its people and hires from a checklist.

Leaders can only rise out of chaos but the order of the day suits most shareholders just fine. It is the absence of concern for the metaphysical connexion of a leader to his soldiers, followers, with the tacit agreement to march for the same purpose as a unified, monolithic juggernaut.Thus, we must satisfy ourselves with the whims of managers and await the incarnation of our Caesars.