Motivational poster leadership isn't leadership at all

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 15, 2014, 5:46 PM | comments: 0

I admire great leaders. They're intoxicating to be around. They're also pretty hard to come by. There are a lot of things that they have to be to fill those leaderhosen (see what I did there?). Conversely, there are a lot of things that they aren't, and this is one of those things. There is a class of people that largely designate themselves as leaders who are completely full of crap, and I call them "motivational poster leaders." They're a caricature of manipulative and hollow marketing practices. Heck, they're at the center of much of the self-help and fitness product world.

Talk is cheap. (Talk is even cheaper on the Internets.) It takes almost no effort at all to tell people how awesome they are, how they can do anything, and that they can fart pixie dust if they really believe. That isn't leadership. Leadership acknowledges shortcomings and helps people build a plan of action toward real accomplishment. They get the risks, and they take them into account. Self-awareness about weakness is a strength.

We all know a Susie Sunshine, or have worked with one at some point. They're people who seem impossibly happy and positive at all times. I distrust people like that. If someone isn't visibly concerned or partially motivated by fear, risk or negativity, I don't think they're realistically viewing the world. I'm not convinced they're truly passionate about anything either, because without a little passion, you can't be concerned with failure. I once worked with a guy like this outside of my reporting lines. When the part of the business he worked in imploded, he was completely broadsided. Don't get me wrong, being positive and upbeat is contagious and essential to solid leadership. It just ain't right when it's 100% all of the time.

Let's be honest, the motivational poster crowd is not successful. Sure, they might bank some nice coin, but it doesn't mean that the people who are influenced by them or that work with them are successful. That's what it really comes down to. Success and accomplishment as a leader goes beyond you, and especially beyond your bank account. If you really are awesome, you'll be swimming in awesomesauce up to your neck. If you're a motivational poster leader, you'll just be up to your neck in bullshit. That's stinky.


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