With the recent passing of Steve Jobs who has been idolized due to his contributions in creating Apple and leading its efforts in product innovation, I am reminded of how much we as a society focus on leaders. I don’t want to take anything away from Steve. It’s sad that he passed away so early in life and he was a successful visionary leader of the company. But once the company reached a certain size, he just led. He wasn’t singlehandedly responsible for the continued success of Apple. In fact, all leaders just lead. They do not do everything that makes an organization succeed, and without others in the organization, they would be ineffectual.
Every strategy or product idea does not originate in the brain of the leader. The people who had the actual spark in their mind are rarely mentioned to the public. She or he may have made decisions to approve them, but without the few people with the original idea, the leader would never accomplish goals. Those ideas are worth millions. Without the many hardworking people at the bottom of the pyramid and everywhere in between, a leader can never flourish.
In our American press, articles are written about leaders as if that person is almost 100% responsible for the success of an organization. Some leaders eat that up and don’t mind being put on the cover of Time magazine or being interviewed as the star. That’s probably why many of them they ask for high salaries.
They often do work hard and that is admirable, but many of us would work extra hard for millions of dollars. Even when they fail, they are given golden parachutes. A true leader sacrifices on behalf of others who are led. If they made all the hiring decisions, one could say that they put all the right people in place. But they usually don’t. Leaders cannot be experts on every detail and so they delegate to people that can figure things out and provide recommendations. Remember too, that one entry level employee can screw up in a big way to affect a company’s results.
High expectations from a leader can increase the chances of success, but the employees have to have the skills, knowledge, talent, and dedication to deliver. Leaders do help to inspire, but often employees are motivated by other factors. They do it for their paycheck, for their family, for their customers, or in support of their coworkers.
Much of leadership is a façade of invincibility which we inadvertently ask for because we won’t follow somebody who appears as insecure or unsure as they really are. A leader's belief that this facade is real can lead to feelings of entitlement and superiority that often result in failure.
In the end, the mentality of putting leaders on a pedestal, which is something we tend to do in the US of A, leads to the runaway wealth extremes of the Top 1%. The big bank executives feel our economy would collapse without them but they don’t realize that it would also collapse without us. We have continually let CEO’s get the high salaries they demand and now we are powerless to stop it. (It’s interesting that in other parts of the world the CEO income disparity is smaller.) I often say, “high salaries don’t get you the best leaders, they get you the greediest.” These are the ones who take the job for short-term gain, line their pockets, and then leave. It’s our short-sighted culture that exacerbates this phenomenon.
It’s time for some collective appreciation for the everybody in an organization, not leader worship. Only then can we expect economic fairness.