Note: A version of this text was published as a comment by PLF Chairman Rune Todnem By in The Sentinel newspaper (UK) on the 20th June 2017 under the title ‘Leadership is all about being MAD and EPIC.’
Every time there is a crisis we talk about the need for strong leadership, and since there is always a real or looming crisis we find ourselves obsessing about this topic. Often assuming that formal leaders perform ‘leadership’, we obsess about Theresa May, Mark Rutte, Barrack Obama, Donald Trump, Jose Mourinho, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and others. We obsess about our own bosses and politicians, and as on the topic of football managers many of us believe we can do a better. However, obsessing about formal leaders only takes the focus away from leadership which is not solely the responsibility of individuals at the top. Furthermore, obsessing about others only takes the focus away from you and me.
When I was two years old, James McGregor Burns suggested that although we know all too much about our leaders, we know far too little about leadership. I am now 41 and this situation has hardly changed as we continue to obsess about individuals. Either individuals we don’t want to be like, or individuals we would like to emulate. However, true leadership is no more predetermined by being like someone else than by age, gender, experience, physical stature, sexuality, nationality, level of education, income, wealth or cultural background. We don’t need a title or someone’s permission to lead. Nor do we have to be charismatic extroverts. In fact, we don’t even have to set out to be leaders in order to provide leadership. Many formal leaders don’t provide leadership, and many who do provide leadership don’t necessarily perceive themselves as leaders. All it takes – and I mean ‘all it takes’ – is for you to be you, and me to be me. All it takes is for us to step up to the responsibility of making our relationships, families, workplaces, local communities, institutions, nations and globe better than what they already are. Leadership is all about the ability and willingness to step up.
So, how do we do this? How do we ‘step up’ as Professor Rosabeth Kanter at Harvard Business School puts it? There is a whole industry out there making a good living of leadership development. Whilst scholars have used tons of published papers identifying leadership traits and categorising leadership approaches, consultants have spent hundreds of thousands of invoiced hours providing leadership advice. Still, we are no better off. Hence, I suggest that when it comes to leadership there is only one right way, and that is our own way. Not Theresa’s, Mark’s, Barrack’s, Donald’s, Jose’s, Steve’s, or Richard’s. Ours.
Here at the Public Leadership Foundation we are facilitating for an individual approach to identifying, developing and supporting emerging leaders. This approach can be summarised by two words: MAD and EPIC. We simply suggest that leadership is all about being MAD – Making A Difference. This is the sole purpose and key ingredient of leadership. If you are not MAD you are not a leader in our book. The way to true MADness goes through EPIC leadership. It’s about embracing and developing our individual Energy, Purpose, Identity, and Courage. It’s about knowing who and why we are. It’s about exploring who we want to be and what we want to achieve. It’s about believing in ourselves and others. It’s about challenging our very own comfort zones and taking risks.
The beauty of it is that we can all be MAD. No one has a MADness monopoly. We can all be Making A Difference to our relationships, our families, our workplaces, our local communities, our institutions, our nations, and our globe. Sometimes all that is required is a word of inspiration, support or correction. Sometimes all that is required is to start college or university. Sometimes all that is required is not to litter. Sometimes all that is required is to take on the responsibility of making something happen. To stop talking and start doing. If we want cleaner streets, let’s clean them up. If we want better education for our children, let’s educate them. If we are not happy at work, look for alternatives. And, if we don’t agree with our politicians, let’s create change.
However, too often we decide to moan and abdicate from the responsibility of Making A Difference… We like to moan as much as the next, but moaning for more than five minutes a day makes us worse than those we moan about. Let’s take back control of our lives and futures. Let’s make sure there is only one side to our beds before getting up in the morning, and that is the right side. What is essential for our individual wellbeing and leadership responsibility is to take control. Imagine there are three circles. One inside of the other. The inner circle represents what we can control as individuals and groups. The middle circle represents what we can influence. The outer circle represents all that we can’t currently control or influence. There is of course no point moaning for too long about the weather being too cold or too hot, because we don’t have divine powers. There is no point in worrying about ever-declining hairlines or wrinkles. Doing so will not as if by magic make the hair grow back or the wrinkles to vanish. So, let’s focus on areas where we can make a decision or influence someone else’s. Let’s focus on growing these two inner circles of control and influence.
When talking about leaders, we are referring to leadership. When talking about leaders, we are referring to you. So, when we are saying “We need MAD leaders!”, what we really mean is that we need you, Making A Difference.