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Stop abusing the L word!

by Miki Saxon

Not love, but lead/leader/leadership/etc. or lead* for short.

We, as a nation/world, have shot our collective discussions in their metaphorical foot by using certain words as if they’re interchangeable when they’re not.

Statesman, leader and politician certainly aren’t synonymous, but they’re often used interchangeably, especially by spinmeisters.

Likewise, Board Chairmen, CEOs and other executives aren’t necessarily leaders, but the higher they are the more often lead* words are used in conjunction with them—starting, again, with the spinmeisters.

In an opinion piece on this subject, Henry S. Givray says, “the problem’s roots lie in the fact that the terms “CEO” and “leader” have mistakenly become synonymous. Nothing could be further from the truth. CEOs are measured by quantitative results. Leaders are shaped and defined by character.” (Note: I consider the implied idea that “character” equates to good/fair/ethical incorrect.)

The July 23rd WelshWay column answers the question, “What is lousy leadership?” by describing bosses who aren’t leaders, just lousy bosses. Again, the assumption that managers are always leaders.

I have two ideas for addressing this.

The first is that people start using the correct term for what they really mean to say and/or stop talking leadership and all other variations of lead* into the ground.

My second idea is a new reality show called So you think you can lead…

It would start with an online questionnaire to reduce contestant numbers from millions to thousands and then, like Idol, it would have local, regional and national tryouts, just a lot more of them to accommodate the number of contestants who passed the written tests.

The judges of the final finalists would be selected from nominations sent in by subordinates (self-nominations not allowed). The final decision for judges resting with proven leaders—those whose leadership skill has stood the test of time. (Unfortunately, most proven leaders are also dead, but this gives great cross-promotional opportunities with other reality shows whose stars talk to the dead.)

The show would run for two seasons, with judge selection and tryouts in the first season and the televised competition between the final finalists in the second. Best of all, instead of summer reruns, the finalists could be profiled and filmed actually leading.

So, all you leadership junkies, what do you think? Would you watch—or would you get yourself nominated?

12 Responses to “Stop abusing the L word!”
  1. Scott, Scott, Scott… Says:

    […] course, then, the trick becomes “responsible leadership.” Tags:consumers choice free access net neutrality save the internet verizon arrogance […]

  2. Rhett LaubachNo Gravatar Says:

    Miki, great post! My opinion is that all CEOs, managers, supervisors, parents, etc. ARE leaders. They are leaders because of John Maxwell’s definition of leadership – influence. The question here is not whether they are leaders or not. They are leaders because they influence others. This is why CEOs are always referred to as “leaders” – they have great influence on a great number of people. The question at the heart of this discussion is not “leader or not.” It is “positive, effective leader or not.” Of course, I could be wrong.

  3. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    Thanks Rhett. I guess I shouldn’t argue with Maxwell, but I’m not sure that influence can stand on its own. He also said, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision,” which, to me, backs up my disagreement with the word “positive.” Most folks don’t call Hitler (my favorite example) positive (although some still do), but he certainly was effective and influential.

  4. Rhett LaubachNo Gravatar Says:

    I agree 100% with the Hitler reference. I actually use that in my programs all the time to get formal and informal leaders to self-realize their position of leadership and influence. Most people superimpose the word positive before leadership. That, as you well know, is wrong. Hitler was a great leader, just not a positive one.

    I’m not sure the main argument you are shooting to resolve by asking folks to stop abusing the word leadership, but in my opinion I think there are really just two simple points of concern for most people:

    1. Informal leaders (i.e. – everyday folks who either do or don’t see themselves as influential) need to understand and act upon the understanding that their behavior does make a difference – whether that be good or bad. Leadership is behavioral, not positional.

    2. Formal leaders (CEOs, managers, parents, etc.) need to understand that satisfying their immediate, urgent and big goal (raise profits, squeeze out higher margins, get the kids to stop screaming, etc.) is not the most critical success metric. They need to satisfy the human element first in as positive manner as possible. Relationships before results.

    Of course, I’m just spitballing here. :)

  5. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    Well, Rhett, I started to respond to you, but by the time I hit 300 words I decided that it was more appropriate to give it full post status. So I hope that you’ll read it tomorrow and then continue the conversation.

  6. Paul B. ThorntonNo Gravatar Says:

    I seriously like your idea of a reality show focused on leadership.

  7. RavenNo Gravatar Says:

    Ah Miki – Once again you’ve caused a ripple in my brain, forcing me to rethink my views on leadership and look from a different perspective.

    I second your leadership reality show – pitch it!

  8. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    Goody! I LOVE rippling brains:) As to the pitch, who would you suggest? All the media people I’ve heard of seem to think that they’re brilliant leaders and would probably want to be the judges.

  9. Be part of a NEW leadership reality show on the web Says:

    […] sort of. I knew what I wanted to do, in fact, shortly after I took over Leadership Turn I wrote Stop abusing the L word and at the end suggested a reality game called So you think you can […]

  10. nahuNo Gravatar Says:

    plzzzzzzzzzz can someone help me to know a list of abusing words and what is this l a abusing word so plz someone help me toknow alist of abuseing words now!

  11. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    Nahu, the post refers to my contention that the word ‘leader’ is often used wrongly.

    As to the list you asked for, words that abuse differ over depending on local culture.

    Check out the definition link and I think you’ll be able to put together a list appropriate to your world.

  12. MAPping Company Success Says:

    […] 2007 I wrote that the word “leader” was being badly abused; five years later I added “entrepreneur” to the abuse list and today […]

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