Online debates are raging about which politicians deal with crisis the best, what model of leadership they should follow, and even what the definition of leadership actually is.
All of this conversation and activity is great to see, but I wonder if they have forgotten one thing.
Talking about leadership is absurd.
In the 1998 film Playing By Heart the character Joan, says“talking about love is like dancing about architecture”. We are using words to discuss something abstract as we try to express how something makes us feel, and to give that some form of meaning.
Once we start to discuss meaning, things get philosophical, and absurd.
1. The Eco System Outranks Your Ego
“How absurd!” we would exclaim, at the thought of an ant studying for her degree.
And yet here we are, meat bags with an overdeveloped sense of importance, which have been thrown in to the universe with little to no clue how or why. Billions of talking monkeys arguing and debating at the way things should be, as our planet spins around a sun hurtling across the universe at 200 kilometers a second, along with several hundred billion other stars in the Milky Way.
If the cosmic calendar was one year, then we rocked up with modern civilization in the last 14 seconds.
“Every person you’ve ever heard of lies right in there. All those kings and battles, migrations and inventions, wars and loves, every thing in the history books happened here in the last seconds of the cosmic calendar.” Neil deGrasse Tyson
We turned up very late to the board meeting, and began dictating how things should be done with little understanding of life, the universe, or anything.
It is not about us. But as a form of life with an amazing ability to dream, to tell stories, to inspire, and create, we do have the opportunity to be a compassionate caretaker of the ecosystem around us. If we can manage our ego.
2. There Are Two Stories Being Told
Our ego tells us we are the main character in this story. Everything revolves around us.
Civilizations all over the globe, many of whom have never met, told stories with a similar structure called the Heroes Journey. It is a great guide for stepping out of your comfort zone, identifying mentors, and finding your bliss. Unfortunately, it has given us an ego-driven narrative and belief that we are more important than we actually are.
We have the story we are telling ourselves in which we are the protagonist, and the story others are telling in which we are a minor background character.
Both of these cannot be true in themselves, and actually neither is true.
In the Marvel film Dr. Strange, the Ancient One says “You are a man looking at the Universe through a keyhole”.
We see a very small and specific part of the world, through a lens of privilege, with little understanding of other ways of living, or even communicating.
We are surrounded by blind spots, and too few leaders actually work on identifying them. They are caught in a situation where they have to reassure and gain the confidence of their followers, and yet, in reality, they can be sure of very little.
Certainly not what is right or wrong.
3. There Is No Good And Evil
One of the more common leadership debates is whether you can be a leader and do cruel things. Were Hitler, Stalin, or even Genghis Khan, examples of great leaders?
Leadership involves empathy, love, and treating your followers or direct reports like family. Or at least, I believe, it should. This is why styles such as servant and heart-led leadership are becoming common, especially where employee wellbeing is being discussed. Recent events with the Covid-19 pandemic show which companies lead in this way.
Some did so through kindness and understanding to their employees, and adapted their production facilities to make personal protection equipment or hand gels. Even Coca Cola deployed its resources to make face shields for those on the front line.
Others prioritized profit, such as Tim Martin the owner of Wetherspoons who abandoned his staff and told them to get a job in a supermarket.
He unsurprisingly backtracked a little after a backlash, but the damage to his brand has been done.
The problem is, what is a good or bad response, is a matter of opinion. And in the age of social media, that can verge on lynch mob response, high numbers of people who do not have all of the facts make a lot of noise.
Talking about leadership often ends up being a conversation about what is right and wrong. Good luck with that.
We now stumble in to the grey area of morals. Are you a leader if you make millions for your company, but cheat on your partner? Abandon your kids? Exploit the environment?
So What Am I Saying?
In summary, I am not saying that you should not talk about leadership, merely, that much like philosophy, it is absurd.
“… the Absurd refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe.”
Talking about leadership should involve discussion about the meaning of life, the nature of the universe, love, and sacrifice. It can be confident and decisive, but with a curious mind, always willing to seek out those blind spots and wonder at the nature of things.
Whether we are prisoners in Platos Cave, staring at the shadows of reality, or talking monkeys in a giant simulation, we need to find a way to give meaning to our lives as we argue and debate on this spinning third rock from the sun.
No matter what the truth is, I believe that effective communication and leadership is important, especially with the intent to make our world a better place. To lead with love and empathy.
We may be an insignificant spec within the universe and the cosmic calendar, but what we do can matter. Much like the parable about saving one starfish, we can make an important impact to someone’s life, even if at the same time that life is insignificant in the greater scheme of things.
There are many truths out there, many points of view. Time continues to pass. The universe expands. All we can do is heed the words of Bill and Ted, and be excellent to each other.
Everything else is absurd.