For the last number of years, leadership has been reduced to charisma, prophetic vision, and grandiose ideas. Leadership is something that existed in the Olympian heights was in the private realm of the gods and the Masters of the Universe.
We looked back to history, and whether we looked at Lincoln, Washington, or Martin Luther King, we only saw the glow of their charisma and the radiance of their ideas. What we didn’t see was that dirt beneath the fingernails–the nuts and bolts of execution, their capacity to get things done, their capacity to mobilize people, their capacity to sell their ideas, their brilliance at tactics, their skills of timing, their interpersonal aptitude, their sheer managerial talent.
Now, in this world embedded in uncertainty and dominated by risk, where each step is perilous, we cannot rely on such grandiose leadership notions such as legacy, charisma, inspiration, and vision.
We have to get down to the microskills of execution. We have to get dirty.
Leadership has got become practical, and leaders must become tactical and accountable. This demands that we throw out the very notions of leadership that have endeared the concept to the best-sellers’ shelves at Barnes and Noble. We may have to take leadership out of the world of cliches, and realize that when my father was able to get three people to join him in a chassis-welding business in East New York, he was leading. When a school teacher is able to mobilize resources for the seventh grade, she is leading. When a community organizer is able to organize a neighborhood to clean up the playground, he is leading. When a person in the office figures out to do some cost-cutting by eliminating some of the overhead, she is leading.
Whenever people are capable of transferring ideas to action, whenever people show the capability of being proactive, they are leading. The time has come for us to stop waiting for the charismatic prophet and realize that leadership is not in the private realm of mystics, but the public realm of pragmatists who get things done.