THE RIOT POINT

The Lab

The fruits of riotous experimentation.

Great businesses are built by great leaders, not prophets (part 1 of 3)

Great leaders are motivated to solve great problems.  They achieve this by accessing the problem-solving capability of others to the mutual benefit of everyone involved.   
  
Great leaderships can resolve problems effectively and efficiently from all domains of the Cynefin framework— to the mutual benefit of everyone involved. 
  
Prophets can manage a narrow range of Chaotic problems effectively and efficiently. They promise benefit to others though the underlying reward is often self-serving.  They prefer to keep the organisation in the transitionary state where their problem-solving preference is more appropriate. Successful Prophets are lucky and glamourised. Some find it difficult to refute these intoxicating narcotics, hence their desire to perpetuate the Chaotic state.

Fortunately, great leadership is a skill that can be developed through practice. It needs motivation and opportunity to be fully displayed, but improvement in leadership is attaintable by all. We should not believe that great leadership is either pre-ordained or dependent on a malady. 
  
In a series of three short articles I will 
  
~ Debunk the cause and effect basis of great leadership. 
~ Supply a practical framework upon which you can assess areas for personal development. 
~ Provide a short case on how Steve Jobs learned to move from Prophet to Great Leader 
  
A colleague recently lent me a copy of  “First-Rate Madness,” in which the author, Nassir Ghaemi, claims to have established a causal link between mental illness and great leadership.  In support of his thesis, he cites the depressive slumps or manic episodes of various prominent personalities such as Churchill, Nixon, Ghandi and Ted Turner. After reviewing their clincal records, Ghaemi asserts that poor mental health is a prerequisite for greatness. 
  
I am not convinced. I have long believed that those who achieve positions of great influence are driven by a dissatisfaction with the status quo, but the engine for the motivation could be sourced externally as much as internally. Additionally, there have been many in power and influence who appear to be generally content and balanced. Many great women and men have never been stalked by Churchill’s ‘black dog’ of depression.   
  
We are trying too hard to find the wellspring of great leadership. In “An Unquiet Mind,” Kay Jamison, like Ghaemi, a well qualified psychiatrist, uses written records to diagnose Theodore Roosevelt, and concludes the President was a bi-polar manic depressive.  However, Jamison writes that "he was one who always resided at one pole”, “never exhibited depression,” and “was always in love with life.”  
  
Hmm. 
  
If some form of mental illness is a contributing factor to leadership luminosity, the requirement must be necessary but not sufficient.  And in the end, so what.  Do these findings help business leaders make better decisions or aid the development of others? I would say not. 

Belief in this relationship takes managers into dangerous territory. For example: 

- If you fortunate enough to be generally balanced and content, does this mean you are programmed to display mediocre leadership throughout your career? 
- If you suffer from mental illness do you now carry the extra burden of being told you might 'loose your muse' if you try to get healthy.? 

Utter nonsense. 

As far as I'm aware, neither Nelson Mendela nor Ronald Reagan had mental health problems in their early lives or the prime of their careers. 

Move on. Don't look for the silver 'great leadership' bullet.  It does not exist.  Great leadership is achieved through awareness, knowledge, motivation and opportunity. 
  
In the next article I will show that leadership is learned, and provide a framework for improving it.