One of my favorite stories is the one from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy. It’s an excellent commentary on the human experience, especially the political experience. The Vogons in the film are a commentary on the inhuman bureaucratic experience while the presidential conflict reveals the tensions that often exist between the appeal of charisma and confidence (read: simple ignorance and arrogance) versus rationality and pragmatism. It represents a keen detriment of the human experience, the often unfortunate fervor of public opinion.
I think about it often because it seems populism and nationalism are more dominant today than ever. The multilateralism of the Obama-administration feels like a distant past as protectionism abounds.
This isn’t a nod to some partisan bias. America-first is salient and obvious. Collaboration is dying and everything is more us versus them than ever.
Some of this is arguably needed. For instance, we must protect our intellectual rights from China and we must find ways to maintain a competitive economy when other countries are perfectly okay with the exploitation of their working class.
But this post is about popularity and leadership.
What I want to say is this – the popular thing is not the right thing; “Likes” do not indicate influence; leadership isn’t cool.
These facts are tough for leaders. It can be easy to doubt yourself when you aren’t getting strong engagement from people, to wonder if you’re really doing the right things or if something is wrong with your approach, if what you believe is correct. Heck, you might even get called crazy because leadership is so rare today it can seem eccentric.
Honesty, empathy, a dedication to values, and a desire to learn are rare gems in Western culture.
Kim Kardashian has more followers than so many great leaders. She will not be remembered by history, and I’m sure many people who currently have many fewer followers than her will be.
Popularity is not leadership. Pop culture has poisoned the mind of the youth. The media on Snapchat is an abomination.
Many of our elected officials are not leaders.
You might add to this the fact authority is not leadership.
Leadership is principled, and it’s complex because it implies a sense of morality. But at its essence, there is a collection of key characteristics once equated with the virtuous. Today, it manifests as things like: the courage, perhaps even audacity, to live your truth despite the reception you receive from others; the vulnerability to admit mistakes and embrace your humanity; and the constant pursuit of veracity.
Perhaps most importantly it is the embodiment of the realization of the duties we owe to each other. (An unintentional nod to The Good Place on Netflix).
So, here’s the deal: this is hard to practice advice but please be at ease about recognition and “Likes”, just try your best, and strive to find and do the right thing.