Real leaders confront important problems in creative ways.

As Seth Godin tells us, following the manual is not leadership. Neither is repeating the same cycles while ignoring the same, persistent problems. Neither is a relentless over-emphasis on morale … as my friend Ross Danis explains, “You can have everybody really happy, locked arms, singing Kumbaya – while the whole place is circling the drain.”

Real leadership involves getting people to face and confront the real problems they have, and create an environment where solutions can germinate, sprout from fertile soil, and prosper.

Real leadership is also not without its dangers. The tougher, the more important, the more vexing and entrenched a problem is … the more danger for the leader. People fear real change for a reason – things could actually get worse. All the leader can offer them is the chance – the hope – that things are better on the other side.

That fear of real change manifests itself in all kinds of ways and gets directed toward the leader confronting the issue. Tactics like personal attacks, distraction and delay techniques, political power games, and in the extreme even violence or assassinations are used to bring down leaders who confront important problems in creative ways. These tactics aren’t really about the leader – they are about avoidance and fear. Notice how quickly a leader falls from the headlines after she’s been destroyed. The job is done, fear wins, the status quo prevails.

Navigating and enduring these tactics is the price real leaders pay in exchange for changing the world. But real leaders are driven by service and love – for them, there really is no other option, no other route to take.

Lots of people have positions of formal authority or power who are interested in protecting things just the way they are, of avoiding conflict, of “keeping the lid on things.” I’ve got no problem with these kinds of managers – just don’t call them “leaders.”

Jason Glass
Columbus, OH