Spare a thought for the leaders of our countries, communities and companies. They’re facing major challenges – challenges leaders have never had to face before.
For the past few thousand years, leaders were the ones with superior knowledge – who knew what was best for their followers – and acted accordingly. Often what they thought was best for their followers was really what they thought was best for themselves.
Leaders then decided what their followers should have or do, or not have or not do, and those followers had to simply fall in line because they had no option.
Disruptive changes over the past few years have however started to put an end to those days as followers have acquired a lot more options. Leaders who insist on blindly continuing with their outdated leadership practices will find things working out a lot differently than from what they expected. This will have a dramatic impact on the leaders themselves as well as on their followers.
In recent times, even in democracies (our own is a case in point), leaders haven’t been paying much attention to the views of the people they lead. Consider what is happening in the political arena in South Africa right now. Consider, too, how different things are being done in the UK at the moment in comparison with how things were done in the first half of the 1900s. The Chilcot Inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Britain’s decision to depart from the EU would probably never have happened 50 to 100 years ago.
The British Prime Minister at the time of the Iraq invasion, Tony Blair, has been severely criticised in the report that has been released on Britain’s part in the Iraq war, and members of the public whose sons and daughters were sent to battle and to their deaths have branded him a war criminal. Tony Blair has now expressed his “regret, sorrow and apology” for the “failures” in the Iraq war. What’s puzzling, though, is that he says he would make the same decision again. How does one regret something that one is quite prepared to do again?
By the same token, David Cameron’s career as Prime Minister has ended in a flash, because the majority of the British public chose to think differently from him on whether to remain in the EU or not.
That by way of background. What is it, then, that is one of the biggest mistakes current leaders make today?
The answer is simple, yet extremely deep and broad, so don’t miss the significance of this very simple next statement: Leaders make decisions based on what they think they know to be true and/or right.
Stop and reflect on this statement. Every one of us conducts our lives based on what we think we know to be true or right. After all, that’s what got us as far as we are so we mistakenly believe that it’s what’s going to get us to wherever else we want to go.
Why is this such a big mistake?
Because what we think we know to be true or right was taught to us by people who lived in a different time and a different world. And what may have previously been true or right is not necessarily true or right anymore! When we make decisions and take action based on a flawed perspective – which we think is valid yet is not – we get a reality check we weren’t expecting or wanting.
How many of the decisions and actions you’re currently taking are based on what you think you know to be true or right? One or two? All of them?
Has it ever occurred to you that what you think you know to be true and right may not be valid? Being able to face this truth takes an enormous amount of courage because it challenges the very essence of our identities, yet it is only by facing this truth that we set ourselves free to see and interpret reality as it really is and not merely how we think it is as per the restricting filters through which we view life.
Leaders who see things as they really are will make decisions and take actions that are far more effective and appropriate – actions that will benefit many people and not just themselves. Which kind of leader will you be?
Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag. He assists executives to develop new generation leadership skills, manage their age as an asset, and achieve self-mastery so that they can lead with greatness and agility in an increasingly disruptive world.