If you go to the business section of a Barnes and Noble, you’ll most likely see an majority of books on the subject of leadership: “Smart Leadership”, “Servant Leadership”, “Quiet Leadership”, “The Power of Positive Leadership,” etc. etc.

It seems we are all trying so hard to a. learn what it means to be a leader and b. learn how to become a better one.

However, this can often be an exercise in futility for the real world. For example, when we look at the recent leadership of the nation, it’s nothing to feel especially inspired by.

Similarly, it seems we’re always reading about the deeply flawed leadership of some of our biggest corporate superpowers, including Twitter, Facebook, and Uber.


Leadership Systems are Flawed


If the systems themselves for appointing leaders are flawed, what is the point of investing so much in studies of leadership development? After all, we do need appropriate role models in order to truly learn to embody healthy leadership.

As a coach for individuals and teams, I am often amazed by who gets appointed a “leader.” I am also often surprised by how much wisdom can seem to lie at lower rungs of the organizational tree. It is not uncommon to come across Group Leads who have failed to set an inspiring team vision and failed to set performance goals for their teams. More often than not, they are more concerned with doing the minimum to not jeopardize their own titles.

When I talk to their teams, I usually find a wealth of great ideas and approaches for goal setting and improvement of processes and efficiency, and yet these ideas don’t get put into action, because they threaten the status quo and the power differential that the Group Lead so desperately wants to maintain.

In my experience of 15+ years, I’ve come across only a handful of leaders that I’d say really earned their stripes. Many so-called leaders may be very skilled in their domains, but if they fail to set an overall vision and plan that a team can buy into, they don’t really warrant being called “leaders.” A title and pay grade alone do not a leader make!

I hate to be a negative Nancy as there is always hope for change. But the truth is that leadership itself is a loaded and flawed term that no longer holds much meaning in our society and workplaces.


Leadership Needs a Rewording, Perhaps?


True “leadership” today lies not so much in wielding power, but in empowering others and sharing power. It lies in seeing power as not a finite entity, but as something that grows through synergistic and collective wisdom.

In that sense, the real job of a leader these days is to teach others how to lead themselves, their work, and their lives.

Which means that eventually what we should aspire to is that everyone becomes a leader. A better word may well be “Mentorship” or “Othership.” As leaders, our primary job is to move away from ourselves as the focus and transfer our efforts onto other people.

It’s a total paradigm shift as we live in a society of selfishness and self-absorbedness. Most of us invest tons of money on our own leadership development with the hopes that we will learn to be better at securing our own careers and futures. We may fail to see that our true success lies in the success of our teams and the empowerment of our team members.

The days of top-down and hierarchical leadership and the divisions between “thinkers” and mere “workers” are slowly ending, as employees ask for greater autonomy and self-management. And honestly, with the busyness and complexity of today, we need employees to step up and take ownership of their own work and careers. We need to harvest trust as a core competency within organizations in order to be successful.

A leader is someone who shows the way in the beginning and sets goal posts for others, inspiring them to move in a certain direction that serves the organization. After this point, a true leader wants to trust you to become your own leader and eventually no longer need them.

Contrary to how many leaders operate, focused on maintaining their status for as long as possible, a true leader’s highest purpose is to aim to no longer be needed.

And who doesn’t like the sound of early retirement?