Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Leading by good looks

… you don't get trusted positions just because of your ability. You also have to attract the notice of superior[s…]. You have to be liked. You have to fit in with the system. You have to look like what the officers above you think that [leaders] should look like. You have to think in ways that they are comfortable with.
The result was that you ended up with a command structure that was top-heavy with guys who looked good […] and talked right and did well enough not to embarrass themselves, while the really good ones quietly did all the serious work and bailed out their superiors and got blamed for errors they had advised against until they eventually got out.

Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card @1999

Likable people that fit within the system do a decent job advancing the system toward success. The kind of success that is easy to imagine, easy to prognosticate, and mostly means being ahead of the competition that does the same thing.

However, if one wants to shoot for the stars, to change the paradigm, to redefine success – expecting good-looking people who think in ways that are approved by the existing system to lead us there is doomed to fail. Occasionally, success is not so much ‘the same thing, just more and better’, but rather a long shot that could turn out to become something different, powerful and amazing. And then there is a need for a different kind of leadership, the leadership that does not work as hard to look presentable, to say the expected thing, to be liked by the superiors.

There have always been unlikeable leaders who changed the world in big and small ways. A few went against the system, and others simply disregarded the system and built their own way. The society at large considered most of them failures during a significant portion, if not the entirety, of their journeys. Others have reached the official definition of success, and occasionally even became liked and popular. Still, leading for change is a risky proposition with high potential for failure.

So when picking a leader, or aspiring to lead, put some thought into what kind of leader you want to follow, or to become. Good looks may not be required. 

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