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Leadership Starts from You


Leon Levin DBA

International Director, IPSLEI Board of Directors

March 3, 2024

 

Leadership is a term often used, and a position often aspired to, but what is leadership, real

leadership and how does it permeate within the corporate environment and more

importantly where does it emanate from.


Leadership as a discipline is a relatively new phenomenon. In the recent past what

determined who would become a leader was generally based upon wealth, linage, and

status. The concept of leadership progression based upon merit was the extreme exception

rather than the rule. There were notable exceptions, George Washington being one,

however his progression and the progression of his fellow revolutionaries was more a

reflection of the new society they were creating, breaking the old-world models.


The old-world models of leadership progression have not disappeared in the 21 st century if

one considers societies such as North Korea or Syria. As the leadership culture tends to

eliminate from the top, the lack of a competitive industrial platform within these societies

can be argued is emblematic of a top-down paternalistic approach. This is supported by

work undertaken by Geert Hofstede in his cultural dimension theory which looks at the

effect of culture on the value of a given membership and how these values may

correspond to the behaviors of people within a culture.


This approach is not unique to autocratic societies, over 70% of business in the western

world are family business and in many cases the succession progression in these businesses

are based on blood not competency. In the context of a family business, the “blood-focus” is

understandable, however this approach does not guarantee future continuity or success.

It may in the short-term facilitate family harmony, but many succession plans fail. Doctoral

research undertaken by Dr. Leon Levin found that the least effective leadership model in

family businesses during and post succession was where the succession decision was based

on family linage solely. Given the familial culture within many public safety agencies this

may deserve a deeper investigation particularly amongst agencies that tout a formal

succession plan or development program.


So how does one become an effective leader, where does the leadership transition begin?

If you cannot lead yourself then it is hard to expect any “leader” to be able to effectively

lead others. Before you even try to lead yourself, you must understand what you stand for

and what you believe in and build upon that foundation. This is harder than it sounds and

takes a great deal of self-refection and personal honesty. A major premise of the work at

IPSLEI is that all leadership starts with self-leadership just as all ethics starts with self-ethics.

Understanding what drives you and what is the motivating force behind your actions is best

exemplified by Victor Frankel in Man’s Search for Meaning (1946). Frankel observed that

even in the dystopian world of Auschwitz, where he was incarcerated for over 2 years, those

who lost what defined them, and what they believed in i.e., their purpose, had the worst

chance of survival. Their inner core was destroyed.


One hopes that Frankel’s experiences are not experienced in the corporate boardrooms of

the west, but the principle stands. Define yourself and your mission, that will give you the

north star upon which to build your corporate (and personal) decisions. Adherence to this

sense of self, will ensure that you are an authentic leader, in adherence to your set of

values, maintaining a constant ethical pathway. And like-minded people will gravitate to

you.


This need for self-exploration and definition is ever more so important in today’s world, due

to the proliferation of social media and the panoply of different “fact” and Identity” sources

that we are all bombarded with every waking minute. The social platforms of the 21 st

century are the new bully pulpits which amplify the plethora of new and evolving identities

that now are imbedded the social discourse.


In today’s efforts at leadership development individuals seek to anchor their sense of self.

That said persons exercising leadership must stand for something and must create a

coherent and focused direction in how they deal with corporate decision-making and

problem solving. Trying to be all things to all “identities” ultimately leads to leaders

representing nothing.


Leadership must not be based on popularity; it must be based on core values and ethics. In

today’s social media-based world, there are many people waiting to be offended, the

emotional hemophiliacs brigade, who tend to dominate the social and corporate discourse,

bellowing the loudest and crowding out the silent majority. Leadership must overcome this

noise and stand up to the vox populi if the situation warrants.


This takes self-assurance. Wavering from this inner locus of control can have a corrosive

effect on decision-making generally and creativity and problem solving specifically.

John Cleese a warrior against political correctness and its effect on creativity noted that not

only does the fear of offence stifle creative debate, but it also castrates creative thought

within, a form of self-censorship, i.e., should I say it or should I just be quiet.


One of leadership’s core missions should be to challenge the status quo by pushing back

against what is currently accepted in a creative and productive way with the hope that

something better will evolve. This will create friction and, in many cases, “offence”.

However, the evolution of western thought, is predicated on “offence” as represented by

some of the great thinkers of the enlightenment, John Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith, and

others.


They were offending the status quo, to moving forward. One should consider that without

the intellectual and ethical leadership the world would be a much less interesting place

today. The modern leaders and thinkers in today’s world must take up the mantel of these

intellectual leaders and take on the challenge.


Leadership can be a lonely and thankless task, but it is rewarding and if based upon real

values and an ethical framework incredibly nourishing for the soul.


***************************************************************************

Leon Levin is an experienced management, leadership, and education consultant based in

Melbourne, Australia. He is co-founder along with Peter Singer of the newly formed firm of

Combined Arms Consulting (https://www.combinedarms.com.au/).

Leon maybe contacted online at LinkedIn or email at sampling@optusnet.com.au.

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