Leadership Posters, we’ve all seen them and the more skeptical of us have wondered if anyone takes them seriously. You know what I’m talking about; they’re those inspirational framed posters hanging on walls all across the USA. They feature striking pictures of majestic eagles in flight, daunting snow-topped mountain ranges or, if you’re lucky, a silly kitten hanging on to a tree branch for dear life.
Below these stock photos you often find quotes from some of our greatest leaders. Yet some of these posters do a disservice to these great leaders by trivializing their hard fought successes with unrelated pictures and mediocre etchings. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few that actually do a decent job highlighting the gravitas of these leader’s utterances, but unfortunately this is usually not the case.
Instead of damning or phrasing all Leadership Poster across the board, I’ve decided that each month I will dissect one of these curiously American originals (which are probably made in China, but that’s for another blog series).
“The ultimate measure of leaders is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.”
By itself the quote is masterful. It’s true, being a leader isn’t just about leading when the sun is shinning and the flowers are blooming. It’s about knowing how to guide those around you through difficult and trying times.
The image by itself is quite bold and invigorating, but coupled with the quote we begin to see a major disconnect.
My biggest question about this poster is: If the leader is the lighthouse, what the heck is it doing out on that jetty all alone? What truly competent and proactive leader would be attempting to overcome adversity solo? It goes back to the traditional and archaic concept that leaders need to be isolated superhero battling a chaotic world single-handedly. Instead of showing leadership, you are in fact just showing your capacity for hubris.
I am pretty sure that Dr. King never saw himself in such a selfish light. In fact another impactful quote from MLK clearly shows this to not be the case.
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
To get things done, to be an above average leader you have to aim to get people on your side and keep them there. You have to avoid “destructive selfishness” at all cost. When things get rough, it’s not your job as a leader to fight all the battles on your own, it’s your job to rally everyone around you and persevere. If you start thinking of yourself as lone, powerful beacon shinning through the storm, you will end up an inconsequential blip of light surrounded and easily overwhelmed by the vastness of the troubles you are battling.
So what lesson have we learned today? Well, it’s two fold:
First, you can’t lead alone. It’s not honorable and brave, it’s just unchecked ego wrapped in selfishness.
Second, proper leadership can not be taught or highlighted in a slap dash manner. You can’t just take a quote, no matter how awe inspiring it is, and just put it with any ol’ picture.