Portrait of Benjamin Franklin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Leadership is something we hear about all the time, we can attend seminars, read books and articles and even blog post. Everyone seems have the solution to being a leader. To me it seems that the title of the book or workshop seems to be more important that the content of the book or workshop. The key to a multi-million dollar book is the title, not so much the content. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some great books out there on leadership, but really, is there anything we have not already hear, read or seen, is there a new holy grail of leadership quality that we just happen to stumble upon?
Can there really be something we missed? I find it hard to believe, sure there are new challenges to being a leader in the 21st century, we have a world that is connected like never before, we tweet or thoughts the moment we have them and Facebook our likes for all the world to see. We have smart phones and tablets that keep us connected to the grid at all times, allowing us to “lead” at any given moment. We can bark our orders to all with one simple posting and we can “keep tabs” on our team with a few clicks of the mouse.
So sure there are new challenges, but has leadership really changes? New tools for a new world, but is being a leader harder today than 10, 20, 50, 100 or 1000 years ago? I think not, if anything, it should be easier. Think about it… Before the advent of cellphones and the internet leaders had to communicate face to face or through well written letters that would take days, weeks or months to arrive at its destination.
Case and point:
Ben Franklin the American Statesmen who helped define this nation, a founding father and great leader. He could not tweet the French monarchy and ask for help in the American cause, he could not pick up his cell phone and give them a little ring nor text them a question. He had only two options, write a letter and send it off, on a boat to France or pack up his bags and head there himself. Franklin did both. The letter first, stating his purpose and announcing his arrival and than he himself heading off. This was no 8 hour flight, it was a long and treacherous trip on a ship. Not a modern-day cruse liner, but a wooden vessel with very few comforts we would consider must haves.
The trip is only part of it, a lot could change in the time it took Franklin to travel from America to France, and he had no real way of knowing so. There was not onboard communication device to receive updates on the revolution back home. Franklin was flying blind, or should I say, sailing blind. By the time Franklin arrives in France the fight could have been over, the British could have defeated the rebels and his trip could have been in vane.
Sure, we may have times were we are flying blind, times we may feel as if we are on a ship sailing off to ports unknown, but we are never truly out of the loop, not in todays connected society. We few postings to our Linked In account, a few Google searches and before we know it, we have the latest rumors or tid-bits of information. Franklin had none of this, in fact, by the time he arrives in France, the French would know more about the revolution latest happenings than him.
Franklin would have to update himself once in France, based on old news, for even the “breaking news” in France would have been weeks if not months old. No instant updates or news feeds for Mr. Franklin, he had to use his intuition to read between the lines of the old news and speculate on the news yet to come. No fact checking or quick call to the home office to verify his information, nope, Franklin had to just wait for updates.
Franklin spent months in France, waiting for the perfect moment to ask the King for help, he used his time to learn and plan. His face, his words and actions represented the Face of America to the French.
Leaders today have lost the art of statesmanship, most have lost the art of communication, be it a political leader, corporate or community leader, we expect instant results with instant feedback. Look around you, how many people are attached to there smart phones and tablets. How many are afraid to make any decision on there own, how many do not like to wait, feel lost without being connected to the outside world. Leadership is the ability to think on your own, the ability to think of others, Ben Franklin had to do this on a daily bases, he had to consider the nation with out the latest polls to help him form a decision.
Sure he wrote letters home and waited for the reply, the lattes news on how the fight for independence was going, knowing that the news, at best, was weeks old. His decisions were based on facts that could not be easily verified and checked. Life was different, some would say less complex, less hectic, but was it really?
Leadership is not always being in the know, but sometimes its intuition, the gut feeling or reaction. Great leaders learn to trust themselves and others. The Founding Fathers had to have faith in Franklin, they had to trust that he would represent them well, but also trust that his intuition would serve them and the nation, a nation that was at war, fighting for its very existence. They had to do it based on blind trust, they had no ability to contact him via phone or text, the written word was all the had, and even that was delayed, old news, by the time it reached him. Our very existence depended on a mans intuition and his ability to be a statesman.
Leadership is not new nor has it really changed, the challenges are timeless and the values are eternal. The tools may have changes, but the underlining principals of leadership are universal and forever-in-a-day. This is why we so often look back in history to find examples of true leadership, Washington, Gandhi, Martian Luther King Jr. and many others. Books have been written and seminars given on the leadership styles od Jesus, the Art of War is still considered on of the best books on leadership, yet we still feel the need to try to separate ourselves, to pretend that our day and age is different, that our circumstances calls for new approaches, yet leadership qualities have not changes, they have remained constant and universal throughout history.
We may label them differently, give them updated descriptions but if you spend the time, look for the root of leadership, you will find that all leadership styles breakdown to the same basics:
- In self
-Intuition, gut feelings
-In a greater power
-When to take action
-When not to take action
Leadership in not new and improved because we have new tools, email, twitter, Facebook and Linked In are tools to allow us to lead, but the basics never change. Leadership is still about others, about placing yourself not at the front, but at the rear, not lifting yourself above others, but lifting others above yourself. A true leader is not elected to power, does not take or steal power, a true leader is elevated, raises naturally and humbled by the power granted to them by the ones they lead. The Founding Fathers understood this, and they lived it.