'Leaders and followers collude in the imagining of leadership as heroic feats that will fix problems and usher in a new era. These practices are seductive because they release individuals from the work of leading themselves, from taking responsibility for thinking through difficult problems and for critical decision-making.'
- Amanda Sinclair, Leadership for the Disillusioned
The dominant narrative in Leadership is the Leader as hero, protector, parent.
A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek is evidence of the power this story has in our culture.
It also shows the myth of 'If only I had more power, things would be different'.
The President of the United States is the most powerful man in the world.
The article quoted 'administration veterans' as saying that President Obama responds to crises in 'a very rational way, trying to gather facts, rely on the best expert advice, and mobilise the necessary resources'. He is said to treat a crisis 'as an intellectual inquiry' where he 'develops his response through an intensely rational process'.
'As former CIA Director Leon Panetta said recently in a TV interview, “He approaches things like a law professor in presenting the logic of his position.”'
In doing so, he is said to 'adhere to intellectual rigour, regardless of the public's emotional needs'.
President Obama 'disdains the performative aspects of his job' and resists 'the theatrical nature to the presidency.'
These characteristics of the President were cited as weaknesses.
The article quoted a poll that found that 65 percent of Americans say they fear a widespread outbreak of Ebola in the U.S, despite the facts showing otherwise. 'People fear what they can’t control, and when the government can’t control it either, the fear ratchets up to panic.'
The President was said to be 'hampered' by 'an unwillingness or inability to demonstrate the forcefulness Americans expect of their president in an emergency.'
'A thought bubble over his head seems to say: “I can’t believe everybody’s flipping out about this stuff!” But as Panetta also said, “My experience in Washington is that logic alone doesn’t work.”'
The article acknowledges that President Obama's record 'even on issues where he’s drawn heavy criticism', is often much better than the initial impression would lead one to believe.
'He may tackle crises in a way that ignores the public mood, yet things generally turn out pretty well in the end. He and his economic team, though deeply unpopular, halted the financial panic and brought about a recovery that’s added jobs for 55 consecutive months. His signature health-care law addressed a slower-moving crisis; while similarly unpopular, it has delivered health insurance to more than 10 million people. Even Deepwater Horizon was nothing like the environmental cataclysm it threatened to become. “It really became a parable of how government can mobilize to solve a big problem,” Axelrod says. And he adds, “Bush didn’t get bin Laden—Obama did.”
Author Peter Block noted the dominant 'patriarchal leadership narrative' when he said that:
'Obama is reluctant to attack Syria. When he decides to consult with Congress on it he's considered like he's waffling...and then when Russia comes along and says 'Wait a second you don't have to attack I think we can reach an agreement' and they play a good third party role, [it is portrayed as] a sign of Presidential weakness that he allowed another country not so friendly to us to be decisive in bringing peace and avoiding war in the world. That interpretation of events is what we're dealing with. There needs to be an alternative narrative - an alternative story telling.'
One of the hardest demands on a new leader is to resist the pressure to take people to where they already are.
A leader invites people to go where they otherwise wouldn't.
She needs confidence in her Widget before she can invite us to join her in its creation.
She assumes the best in us that we crave to be discovered and acknowledged.
She draws us out of the comfort of our fears and prejudices and oppressive, suffocating narratives, cadences and routines - and into the anxiety that is the surest sign that we are free.