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It's about the people, stupid!

It's about the people, stupid!

(The MBA for leadership blaggers - part 1)  

Image by Ulrik De Wachter  -  www.ulrik.be

What is leadership? So much has been written on leadership, most of us don’t have time to read it. So here’s 21 centuries of leadership thinking crammed into 400 words - an MBA for leadership blaggers!

A long time ago on a continent far, far away a wise Chinese chap called Lao-tzu (remembered fondly for “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”) in the 6th century BC taught leaders were in fact servants. True leadership was not selfishness, but service. He believed “a leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Not so far away Sun Tzu was writing the “Art of War”. He believed “The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”

Stepping from Chinese to Greek - Plato said however well leaders began, hunger to hold on to power would turn them into tyrants - until specially educated leaders or “philosopher kings” mastered the balance of power and wisdom and recognised what leadership was really about. That’s the 4th Century BC.

Jesus, in the 1st Century AD taught “whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” His disciples likened the relationship between leaders and followers to that of a shepherd caring for their flock.

Each one of these agreed that leadership was not about control, but service.

Sorted. Until the 16th Century AD when the cunning Italian Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his famous book “The Prince”. He believed a leader should maintain power at all costs – by force and deceit if necessary. The leader was the focus – everything was about them. Machiavelli taught the leader should appear to be one thing whilst in truth being something else altogether.

And frankly we are still clearing up his mess. Whilst he added brilliant insights into what makes people tick and the perils of managing change, Machiavelli completely buried the #1 principle of true leadership. The golden thread.

Which is what, exactly? Well, it’s incredibly simple really. Leadership is not about YOU – it’s about THEM! Or to misquote Bill Clinton, “It’s about the people, stupid”.

A leader is only a leader when they have followers, so the temptation is to create followers who are dependent upon you – who need your great wisdom to show them the way.

The best leaders don’t seek to create more followers, they seek to create more leaders.

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