Defending Leadership

by  Mike Myatt  |  Leadership Development

Note: This post was originally posted as “What If Leadership Was More Than A Buzzword?” on my N2Growth blog in July of 2010.  The question is still valid.

What if “Leadership” was more than a buzzword? What If…What if leadership was more than just another contentious term bantered around in meaningless conversations? What if leadership was truly understood, modeled, and actually experienced as the rule and not the exception? In the text that follows I’ll  answer these questions and hopefully encourage you to reevaluate how you view the practice of leadership…

Have you ever felt as if  the term “leadership” has a bulls-eye painted on it? Well, it’s because it does – the very mention of the word leadership seems to draw fire from increasingly large numbers these days. The term has been inappropriately hi-jacked by the politically correct who mock it, the avant-garde who belittle it, the naive who discount it, and the public at large seems to be growing tired of hearing about it. I’m befuddled by this dismissive attitude, and am left wondering how we could have arrived at such a place – how could something so valuable be trivialized by so many?

Why does all this matter? Because leadership matters…Whether through malice or naivete, those who trivialize the value of leadership place us all at risk…Poor leadership cripples businesses, ruins economies, destroys families, loses wars, and can bring the demise of nations. The demand for true leaders has never been greater –   when society misunderstands the importance of leadership, and when the world inappropriately labels non-leaders as leaders we are all worse for the wear.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason so many attempt to ridicule leadership is twofold: 1.) The masses of feigned leaders in the public eye make it easy to do so, and; 2.) Real leaders tend to practice their craft quietly, and with great humility, often going unnoticed in the public eye.

By my definition, leaders are not self-promoting, pseudo celebrities whose propensity for personal achievement and media attention far outweigh their true contributions. Rather than focus on the braggarts that litter the media with their personal triumphs, or the charlatans who provide constant reminders of failed leadership, we need to focus our attention on the true leaders who quietly walk among us each day…ethical business people, soldiers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, principled educators, pastors & theologians, medical practitioners, responsible parents, student achievers, volunteers, statesmen (notice I didn’t say politicians), good Samaritans, and the every day hard working American citizen. These are the real leaders who through their personal sacrifice, committed service, and selfless acts who deserve our respect and attention.

Focus our attention on the true leaders who quietly walk among us each day…ethical business people, soldiers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, principled educators, pastors & theologians, medical practitioners, responsible parents, student achievers, volunteers, statesmen, good Samaritans, and the every day hard working American citizen

So my challenge to you is this…the next time someone demeans the value of leadership in an attempt to show how cool or intelligent they are, stand your ground, engage, educate and inform them of the value of leadership, and don’t let them denigrate the value of leadership. But most of all, I would encourage you to engage in the practice of modeling true leadership – when all is said and done, it is your actions not your words that will demonstrate your true beliefs.

I’d hope that what’s been espoused above sets the stage for an active dialogue in comments below. This is a subject that deserves a serious conversation by serious people. I welcome your thoughts and observations…

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

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What People Are Saying

Tristan Bishop  |  07 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Thank you Mike. It is true that attention often goes to those with volume, rather than those with vision. After prolonged exposure to ego-driven edicts, many minds now link “leadership” with selfish ambition. In truth, the drive to BECOME somebody is the polar opposite of the heart to SERVE someone. A true leader is the latter. I accept your challenge, and will make every effort to clarify the difference.

Mike Myatt  |  07 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Thanks Tristan:

One of my favorite quotes comes from James Strock’s book on Servant Leadership which states: “Everyone can lead because everyone can serve.” Any of us who have been on the receiving end of leadership that values service above self have been left wanting more…Thanks again Tristan.

Alan Danielson  |  07 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Amazing post, Mike! You’re right that leadership is not about gaining power, popularity, or prestige. It’s about moving people to make a difference and to become their best. Thanks!

Mike Myatt  |  07 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the kind words Alan. That said, while I don’t believe there is anything “amazing” about this post, I’m hopeful that it will stimulate amazing thoughts and reflections by those who have an impact on the field of leadership. Best wishes Alan…

Dan Rockwell  |  07 Sep 2010  |  Reply


Thanks for your work. I appreciate all you do for others.

Here’s what I’m taking from your post. The next time I see someone leading, especially “unofficially” I’m going to thank them.



Mike Myatt  |  07 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Thanks Dan.

Recognizing those who are leading well is always time well spent. Also helping those who can become better leaders will also benefit many. Your work is encouraging to those pursuing both of these endeavors. Best wishes Dan.

Steven  |  07 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Great post again Mike! Just one small remark: leading assumes following and what can go wrong with one, can as easily go wrong with the other. Our history books are full with egos and power-craving people who have in fact changed human history, e.g. built entire empires with unmatched prosperity, simply by anticipating on mass behaviour and the inherited need to belong to a group. And preferably to the one that conquers the others. Whether you call it “leadership”, these individuals undoubtedly had the ability to attract followers.

Personally I think there are two sides to leadership. Maybe it is best to recognize there is a “negative” version, but even more… that it can lead to great achievements as well. As long as thoughtleaders keep saying that poor leadership brings all but good, egos et al will justify their behaviour with results. Should we accept its co-existence? Definitely not, but be aware that many others do. Despite of the numerous examples of proper, or, as you probably would call, REAL leadership around them…

Mike Myatt  |  07 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Hi Steven:

Thanks for your comment. I understand the sentiments you have expressed as well as your caution and thank you for both. From my perspective the people you mention in warning are not “real” leaders, but rather megalomaniacs who use their charisma or sense of timing to gain access to power. In extreme cases what you describe goes beyond ego and arrogance and is nothing short of pure evil. People who impersonate leaders for the purposes of advancing their own agenda will eventually become their own undoing, but the sad part is that many people can get hurt in the process. Real leaders focus on service above self not self serving agendas put in place to the detriment of many for the benefit of few. Thanks again for the words of wisdom Steve.

Steven  |  08 Sep 2010  | 

Thanks for promoting my small remark to your larger thought as “wisdom”!

Mike Myatt  |  08 Sep 2010  | 

You’re most welcome Sir…

Chad Balthrop  |  07 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Hey Mike,

Thanks for the post. One of my heroes once said, “The greatest among you will be the servant of all.” This certainly is the most lasting & admirable forms of leadership. While those positional, professional, political and vocal leaders may influence the spirit of our times it is the humble servant of all who inspires genuine devotion and a willingness for self sacrifice. Perhaps that’s the question. How devoted are your followers? When the pay check ends and the hard work begins will your ‘followers’ keep following? Do we serve and sacrifice for something bigger than ourselves? One form of leadership can get business done. The other leads toward genuine, transformational, life change.

Mike Myatt  |  08 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Hi Chad:

Thanks for your wonderful and eloquent comment. What I locked-on to was your last sentence: “One form of leadership can get business done. The other leads toward genuine, transformational, life change.” From my perspective, where we’ve gone awry is that so many seem to believe that for the former to exist the latter can not. Nothing can be further from the truth…It is the latter that actually creates value and ultimately sustainability. As we’ve all observed over the last few years, those leaders who solely focus on short-term interests to the exclusion of long-term value pay a very steep price for doing so. Thanks again for adding value to the discussion Chad.

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