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Leadership can be hard to come by

Jun 17, 2012 - By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

Leadership, or the lack of it, has been one of the most controversial topics since man first invented the concept eons ago.

Management styles differ, leadership principles vary widely and the simple act of getting an individual or a group to follow another person's directives, remains the daunting task it has always been.

When we think of leadership we often hear names like Genghis Khan, Sun Tzu, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and everyone's two favorites, Stalin and Hitler, bantered about.

Of the men mentioned in the line above, only Gandhi, Lincoln and Sun Tzu had a lasting legacy worth emulating. The others were autocrats, dictators and possibly the worst examples of human beings produced so far on this planet.

Their actions affected millions of people in the worst ways, and they now serve as examples of what not to be rather than persons with positive traits to aspire to.

You often hear about "being a team player" or "riding for the brand" these days. Neither of these terms has ever appealed to me personally.

A former school superintendent that I constantly was at odds with, called me into his office one day and informed me that I wasn't a "team player."

I quickly responded with a flurry of sports metaphors.

"That's not right," I said. "I've blocked for others, passed the ball inside so someone else could score, and have always been a team player. The problem is that I'm not on your team."

The write-up he put in my file was tossed out a few years later by another superintendent.

People within an organization are often troubled that their supervisor always supports the company over the individual. "Riding for the brand," is the epitome of taking the corporate view over the needs of the individual.

What most people don't understand about middle-management is that the people in those positions are there because they don't rock the boat. They follow orders implicitly, don't take many risks, and always take care of the hand that feeds them.

Radicals don't get hired as principals, managers or foremen. If, by accident they are hired, they don't last long in the position.

Often the most prominent skills many managers have is the ability to listen carefully, appear concerned and then employ two of the most popular leadership routines in practice today.

The first is to "gather data," to completely analyze the situation before taking any action. You can call this one "paralysis by analysis."

In gathering volumes of information it appears that they are concerned about the problem and trying to solve it.

What is actually happening is more of a smoke screen with the ultimate goal being the impression of change without really doing anything.

It is a masterful skill set to those who can pull it off. Their superiors smile down on the process, while their subordinates continue to bear the burden with no relief on the horizon. What a practical propaganda piece it can be.

The second method used in corporations, offices and schools across America is even more effective. Let's call this one "diffusion by inclusion."

Inclusion is a word we hear constantly in the workplace. Ostensibly the world has been controlled by white, middle-aged men for eternity but inclusion can break this racial and gender bias down.

If you hear the word inclusion with another popular term, "stakeholders" in the same paragraph you know the procedure is in place.

Here is an example of diffusion by inclusion that nearly everyone has witnessed and many have been a part of.

A superintendent, office manager or fleet foreman retires. The board of trustees appoints a person to manage the hiring of a replacement, with the stipulation that stakeholders must be a part of the process.

Years ago a few people reviewed applications, conducted a handful of interviews then made a recommendation to the board. Now, with "inclusion" in place among the "stakeholders" the group grows from three or four to dozens of people.

Inclusion gives everyone a chance to speak their mind, support their candidate and give the impression that all groups within the organization have the same opportunity for input.

What a great democratic example it appears to be, but appearances are deceiving. What is actually happening is that the value of each person's input is diffused by the volume of people sharing their own views.

When everyone is involved the group has to reach consensus. Consensus rarely solves a problem It just placates those involved and the people at the top still get to decide the outcome.

But what a beautiful process it is; including everyone while excluding them at the same time.

It's a leadership style that the Great Khan and the enumerable despots that followed him would love.

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