Filling the Void of Real Leadership

| | Personal Leadership

mahatmaHave you noticed how many adjectives we seem to use these days when we talk about leadership?

Authentic, servant, great and real are a few of the adjectives that come to mind. In scanning articles about leadership it doesn’t take long to get the message that there is an absence of the kind of leadership needed to address the challenges in today’s world.  There is also no shortage of examples of bad leadership.

With all the books, programs, and experts on leadership you would think we would have a glut of great leadership, but instead we have a seemingly ever growing void.

In his article on Counterfeit Leadership, Frank Sonnenberg does a great job distinguishing the difference between a real leader and those with leadership positions who misuse their position and/or fail to lead.  He also points to our complicity stating: “With full complicity, we reward these misguided efforts by electing politicians for “life” and by paying executives zillions of dollars to damage the same organizations that they “swear” to serve.”

We know this kind of thing is happening.  Unfortunately it is easy to point out examples of bad leaders and the absence of real leadership.  Glaring examples of bad leadership are being called to our attention at an alarming rate.  The void of “real” leadership is palpable for most of us.

My question to you is how can we fill the void?

We have laws and institutions that are supposed to protect us.  We get discouraged and angry when they don’t, but for the most part we have no idea what we can do about it.  It is easy to feel powerless. So we attempt to point out the flaws in the leaders and/or the system hoping someone is smart enough and ethical enough to lead the way to the so obviously needed change.

What if each and every one of us chose to lead instead of waiting (and hoping) for someone else to lead us?

I’m not talking about positional leadership.  What I am talking about is considering where you can make a difference by providing the leadership that is missing and so desperately needed.

You can start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Is there something that needs to be said that no one is saying?  If so then you could be the one to speak up.
  2. Is there something I can do that would help restore the integrity of myself or others?  If so, then you could be the one to step up and take action to correct the course.
  3. Are actions being taken or words being spoken that are inconsistent with the values and commitments of you and/or your organization?  If so, they you could be the one to take a stand.

You don’t have to be THE leader to be a leader.  You don’t have to try to take over someone’s position, cause a coupe, or be given power or a position by someone else to help fill the void of real leadership.  Every single one of us – that means YOU! – can make a difference by committing one act of leadership at a time.

Consider that “they” won’t change until we, as in you and me, do.  The time is now for every one of us to be a “real” leader.

Are you ready and willing to fill the void?


Enter A Comment

Shawn Murphy   |   29 June 2011   |   Reply

You’ve positioned the situation very eloquently. You’ve poised us all to take the next step in our concern over the void of leadership.

Imagine how the word leadership would expand our perspectives when a mass of people take the reigns you’re calling upon us to take.

Great writing, Susan.


Susan Mazza   |   30 June 2011   |   Reply

Thank you Shawn. I think we really do need to be the change we wish to see in the world. The possibility you ask us to imagine is exactly why I am so passionate about instigating everyday leadership.

Stan Faryna   |   30 June 2011   |   Reply

Jack and I were speaking about this very problem, yesterday. Inspired by our conversation, I wrote this blog post:

Stop lieing to you. And other social media DOHs! 5 Minute Therapy

I wrote it from my heart. But still I wondered if I have spoken Truly or only from my heart. Your wonderful blog post is the first confirmation that I have spoken Truly. And I hope too that my comment here and blog post are a confirmation to you, Susan, that our hearts are moving in celestial algorithms.

Susan Mazza   |   30 June 2011   |   Reply

Thank you Stan. Your post was moving as was the video. For me the image of Ghandi represents my that belief you also touch of “being the change we wish to see”. We are definitely tracking 🙂

Mike Henry Sr.   |   30 June 2011   |   Reply

Susan, thanks for a great post. For me the key more and more is point 3: “Are you doing anything inconsistent with your values?” I’m convicted by the number of times I catch myself considering or even doing things contrary to my own values for pragmatic or expedient purposes.

Thank you for the great reminder in this post.

Susan Mazza   |   30 June 2011   |   Reply

It is interesting that when we are willing to face our own choices in the context of our values and interpretation of integrity we can see just how difficult that it is to be the kind of leader we expect those in leadership positions to be.

It is also too easy to cast stones at those in positions of leadership and not assess the individual in the context of the whole picture of who they are. We are after all human! The words of Jesus are running through my mind in this moment…Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Stan Faryna   |   30 June 2011   |  

I appreciate your reference to the bible, Susan. Specifically, John 8:3-11

Christian or otherwise, no one who truly knows himself/herself can deny that each of us are capable of intention and action that is referred to as sin and evil. Worse, I do, in fact, intend and act in a manner that offends my own dignity, the dignity of others, and the dignity of the world at large. Often, I regret. Maybe, you too. [grin]

I’m working on it. Maybe, you too.

And I’m not just working on it, but I solicit divine assistance, pardon, and mercy in this endeavor. Frequently.

Alas, I do not work hard enough on it as I should. Maybe, you too.

As you point out, Susan – leaders with the best intentions will find themselves in the Catch 22 of being human and yet also being held to a greater responsibility than the lay person. Some more often than others. We know in our hearts that this greater responsibility is a burden that is joined with the essential rewards of admiration, honor, and glory – not to mention other privileges, compensation, etc.

It is our own fault that in times of urgency, emergency, or our irresponsibility, we will overlook even great faults, injustice, and crimes. This is not mercy. It is convenience. We must be especially cautious against our own self-interest and convenience in our requirement for justice (or mercy).

For convenience declares such terrible things as a population reduction as a means to economic equilibrium. And that is a lie and the kind of evil that must be met with violent opposition.

There are many questions to explore. This is an exciting start to an important discussion!

Jack King   |   30 June 2011   |   Reply

Susan, I LOVE this post! As Stan mentioned, he and I were discussing this very issue into his wee hours of the morning! As I read your post, I am reminded of the parable of Brother Leo.

“A legend tells of a French monastery known throughout Europe for the extraordinary leadership of a man known only as Brother Leo. Several monks began a pilgrimage to visit Brother Leo to learn from him. Almost immediately, they began to bicker about who should do various chores. On the third day they met another monk going to the monastery, and he joined them. This monk never complained or shirked a duty, and whenever the others would fight over a chore, he would gracefully volunteer and do it himself. By the last day, the others were following his example, and from then on they worked together smoothly. When they reached the monastery and asked to see Brother Leo, the man who greeted them laughed. ‘But our brother is among you!’ And he pointed to the fellow who had joined them.”

Brother Leo filled the void, not because he had to, but because he had to. Yes, you read that right. You see, Brother Leo understood leadership is not a thing, it’s not a process, nor is it a position of veiled authority. It’s relationship. Mark Frankel puts it this way: leadership “is in part a moment, a chance opportunity, when someone steps forward and says, ‘This way, follow me.’” Why, you may ask, would someone step forward? In a word, love. That’s right. For the sake of love one leads. There’s no other reason. The void we seek to fill is there only because love does not keep it company. When we step forward, we bring with us all the love necessary to fill that void … and to lead. Until it is time for another to do the same … because they, too, have to.

Leadership without love is no leadership at all.

Susan Mazza   |   30 June 2011   |   Reply

Thank you Jack! I really appreciate you sharing this story Jack. Your stand for love being at the heart of leadership is so clear and always inspires me.

Frank Sonnenberg   |   30 June 2011   |   Reply

Bravo Susan! Well said. Thank you so much for speaking out on this issue and for providing tangible ways to bring about change.

I’m happy that you’re leading by example (as you posed in question 1) “Is there something that needs to be said that no one is saying? If so then you could be the one to speak up.”

As I see it . . .while it’s tough to change the world, we can change the world around us. It’ll take work, but as the Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Have a great day!


Susan Mazza   |   30 June 2011   |   Reply

Thank you Frank. I am always inspired by your writing. It is wonderful to be able to learn from, build on , and challenge our thinking by engaging with each others writing. Appreciate you coming by!

Barb   |   30 June 2011   |   Reply

Hello Susan,
Well said! I am always struck by people who say “there is a problem. issue, etc. SOMEONE should do something” Look in the mirror, there is “someone”! What change we could see if we just would be. We are, each and every one of us, someone. To reduce this all to it’s simplest terms, “Leaders Lead”

Susan Mazza   |   01 July 2011   |   Reply

“Everyone of us is someone!” – absolutely Barb I think that goes to the heart of what this blog is about – having people see that the person who can make the difference in what matters to them is the one looking back at them in the mirror.

Thanks for your comment!

Rick Ross   |   02 July 2011   |   Reply

I love the three questions and your point: “You don’t have to be THE leader to be a leader.” Together they’d make a great reminder poster in any organization. Excellent post Susan. Thanks!

Susan Mazza   |   06 July 2011   |   Reply

I love that idea – Thanks Rick!

Dawn Morris   |   02 July 2011   |   Reply

Wow. I always love your posts, but this one really resonated with me.

I especially appreciate the question you posed here:

“What if each and every one of us chose to lead instead of waiting (and hoping) for someone else to lead us?”

All of us do lead in some way, whether it’s through our career, or through our family, home, or community life. We all can make a difference just by doing the right thing, or speaking out when we witness unethical behavior.

Another powerful way to lead, other than by example, is with our wallets. With every dollar we spend, we are voicing our support for something or someone. When we think (or read that label) before we hand over that money, we are changing the world. Small steps can make a tremendous difference!

Thank you for the inspiration and for lighting such an important fire. Our future depends on the leaders you describe so eloquently here.

Susan Mazza   |   06 July 2011   |   Reply

Thank you Dawn for your kind words.

That question “What if each and every one of us chose to lead instead of waiting (and hoping) for someone else to lead us?” is really the point of this post – and of this blog for that matter.

For me leadership is about speaking up, stepping up and standing up for what matters most to YOU! So I love your examples of how every one of us can lead in our everyday behavior.

Happy to light the fire!

Beyond Horizons   |   04 July 2011   |   Reply

Great Post!
Leadership is not defined by a position or title. A leader is someone who gets work done and helps people around him grow. All of us can choose to be leaders. Thank you for pointing this out.
On a relevant note, I read this I also read a post by Art Petty about ‘informal leaders’ and how they need to be nurtured. You can have a look at the post at http://artpetty.com/2011/03/28/leadership-caffeine-supporting-the-rise-of-the-informal-leader/

– Sindoora (http://www.beyondhorizons.in)

Susan Mazza   |   06 July 2011   |   Reply

Thanks for sharing Art’s post Sindoora. I am already a big fan of Art Petty and his blog.

This point sums it up for me “all of us can choose to be leaders”! My mission is to instigate more and more people to make that choice in their everyday life!

Susan Mazza   |   06 July 2011   |   Reply

if you haven’t seen it already MaryJo Asmus (@mjasmus) posted a response to this post focusing on the question: Is there a shortage of good leaders? http://www.aspire-cs.com/is-there-a-shortage-of-good-leaders.

It’s a great question – wondering what you think? To mary Jo’s point there are a lot of great leaders out there. I have had the privilege to work with many. Yet I do think there is a shortage if you consider what it will take to address the significant problems we face in today’s world.

What do you think?

john Thurlbeck   |   22 May 2013   |   Reply

Hi Susan

Loved the post! I think you hit the nail right on the head. There is a simplicity to this emerging problem which is about the difference between leadership ‘talking’ and leadership ‘doing’. Too much talking and acting like a leader is never going to compete with actually being a leader!

Thanks for your thoughts and for sharing!

Kind regards


Susan Mazza   |   22 May 2013   |   Reply

There is indeed a “big difference between the “talking” and the “doing” of leadership” as you so well put it John. We don’t have to look long or hard to see opportunities for each of us to lead every single day. Thanks for coming by!

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