BLG Leadership Insights Features

Obama, Dylan Thomas, & Peter Finch

So we all want Obama to rage. We all want him to make the passionate plea, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.

Somehow we all have these moments when we’d like to see our leaders raging passionately. Maybe not quite as wildly as Peter Finch in the 1976 movie Network, but maybe with the rage that Dylan Thomas demands of his dying father when he asks him to “Rage, rage against the dying light.”

It’s generally agreed that Don’t Go Gentle Into That Good Night is about Thomas watching his once powerful father age and become blind and weak. Seeing the disintegration of his former idol Thomas urges his father to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

To often in life our fear is that we are simply stumbling, one mistake after another, and have lost the drama of rage. More so, we fear that our leaders are stumbling and have lost their rage as well.

The real challenge is to know when to rage and how to rage. When George Bush visited Ground Zero the timing was ideal and the drama palpable. The problem was: what followed the rage? Very little.

In that context, as we look back at his rage, we see how successful it was at mobilizing the crowd but it did little at sustaining momentum and following through.

In hindsight Bush’s rage has lost some of its historical meaning. Leaders have to be selective about what to rage about and when to rage. Sometimes rage can come to late and sometimes it can come to early. Sometimes it’s appropriate and sometimes it’s inappropriate.

The ecological catastrophe we’re now seeing the Gulf hasn’t challenged Obama’s capacity to deliver as much as it has challenged his dramaturgical capacity for knowing how to convey he will not go gently into the good night.

Some have said the raging Obama is not the real Obama. His concern, they argue, is with methodical execution. Absolutely true. We have seen very few leaders on the scene more capable and more thoughtful about methodical execution. But once and a while even Harry Truman has to lift up his walking stick, fling it at the setting sun, and rage at BP.

Most importantly, after raging, get something done.

Picture Credit: ArbyReed

BLG Leadership Insights

3 Leadership Traps: Elitism, Hypocrisy, and Emotional Deception

One of the standard questions that we love to kick around is “What are the worst traits of a leader?”  I often find that the failure of leadership comes around due to subtle attitudes, the little nuances that have unintended consequences.  Three that come to mind are elitism, hypocrisy and emotional deception.

1. Elitism: All too often leaders have the need to make it clear that they are in fact in charge and the boss.  They constantly reinforce their authority, their status, and their expertise.  This type of elitism creates distance between the leader and those whom he or she leads.  Input from your subordinates is not likely to be forthcoming.  In fact, what they’re likely to do is not give you any relevant input, because they get a sense that anything they have to say will be deflected in the leader’s need to reinforce their superior position.  Elitist leaders have the tendency to put down others and their ideas. Elitism is often convey by individuals who are completely unaware they are acting in an elite manner.  This attitude is so second-nature they don’t even realize they’re doing it.

2. Hypocrisy: Say one thing, do another–this behavior is all too rampant. For leaders this means holding others accountable for one set of criteria and standards while holding themselves accountable to another set of criteria and standards.  He might expect everyone to show up early, but has a reason why he can’t be in early.  He will work at home, while insisting that everyone else work in the office.  He will hold others accountable for one set of quality measures, and have a lesser standard for himself.  Hypocrisy makes it difficult for anyone to take you seriously.