There are endless books and articles on the subject of leadership. There are endless more products being produced at this very moment—to reach you at bookstores, podcasts, web portals and so forth. Each moment, particularly if you are a manager at your workplace, you are being asked to check your leadership thermometer. Are you hot? The pressure is on. We pay a lot of attention to leadership because of our need for success. We must turn our business ventures into profit-making enterprises. This is how we make a living. However, can we focus on leadership so intensely that we might trip over ourselves? Is there another way to lead that does not entail a constant second-questioning of our selves?
Karima Hana-Meksem, PhD, a writer on human development and, yes, “leadership,” thinks so. In her article “The Most Successful Leaders Have No Leadership Lessons to Give,” Hana-Meksem challenges conventional and unquestioned styles of leadership. She starts out by saying that there’s nothing wrong when someone chooses not to change instead of constantly react to exhortations to change. “There is actually nothing bad with people not changing over time. There is nothing wrong with not following the trend of fakeness, the excessive narcissistic selfie trend and the political correctness of our chaotic world.”
While some of us manage to retain our original identity in the demanding workplace, it’s very easy to forget it also. We all come from somewhere specific—whether it’s a home where parents imbued specific values in us or a foreign country where life next to livestock was the norm. Our leadership styles and approaches could reflect our origins but instead they need to be curtailed in order to fit in. While we strive to blend in to benefit our corporate enterprise it is not necessarily wise business. “We all just want to please all around and at all costs and we simply forget to be ourselves at home, school and especially in the workplace,” writes Hana-Meksem.
At the present moment, the idea of leadership may be so diluted, so hackneyed, that it may be counterproductive and ineffective. Hana-Meksem compares current thinking on leadership to argan oil, an ancient Moroccan product that has suddenly become an international trend. “Leadership is comparable to argan oil. The argan tree, also known as the tree of life, because of its precious argan oil is the most expensive table oil on the planet. Leadership popularity, like the argan oil boom, unfortunately is a double-edged sword.”
Suggesting another leadership style, Hana-Meksem evokes the image of the nobody. Yes, the nobody. “These [leaders] are the unknown human beings of the Moroccan Atlas mountains, the Alaskan natives, or ignored office workers, boxed in at the bottom of these extravagant international organizations. These people represent an important hidden leadership capital. These people are rare and unfortunately, they are not among the majority of people we wrongly worship as ‘leaders’ today.” These individuals, Hana-Meksem suggests, are leadership capital precisely because they do not change. Their constancy is not stagnation, however. It’s a refusal to blindly follow trends. It’s also resilience expressed as a doggedness in remaining true to themselves: remembering who they are and acting accordingly. The workplaces we inhabit challenge us in stringent ways. It’s a condition to thrive in a global environment. We need effective solutions at an arm’s length away. Copying leadership styles, changing them each week according to trends may be suppressing each one’s leadership potential—not to mention that it’s also exhausting to keep up.
We also work in top-down structures. We love them for their effectiveness, for how easy instructions from above flow down, clearly, ready for enactment. The dominant leadership styles are based in the West and styles that are not are not given their proper weight. In a diverse, global world—increasingly growing more and more complex—is it time, for survival’s sake—to reconsider the effectiveness of hierarchy, the practicality of Western ways of doing things? Hana-Meksem’s vision of leadership reflects an approach that empowers those we work with, not us—the leader.
“Leadership is giving everyone a chance to become capable of leading. Leadership is about redistributing power to all. Leadership is comprehending that nobody is in charge; nobody has power. All human beings are intelligent and are able to have a vision about what leadership should be in their own environment. Leadership is about looking forward and distributing power. There is nothing self-centered about leadership, it is all about others. This is about thinking first before applying anything. Leadership is about learning to listen to people with or without titles, and to think wisely, not just to lead at all costs,” she writes.
It’s the middle of the day and the day’s second meeting is in five minutes. It’s evening, in a hotel room, and tomorrow you are due to give an important presentation. You have been promoted and now in charge of a team of fifty people. The pressure is on to lead. And we need to lead. However, by virtue of who you are, you may already have more tools, more valuable experience than you think in the practice of leadership. Maybe, right now, it’s more important for the benefit of your team, to relax instead of reaching for that bright book on leadership.
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