There’s a huge delta between what most people perceive as leadership and what true leadership actually entails. The textbook case study of this is President Donald Trump. For mental health reasons we won’t explore here, he’s a big fan of make-believe leadership. The Apprentice was the perfect platform for Trump because it allowed him to play a leader on TV. He didn’t have to make real decisions or face real consequences, because there was a safety net in place to make sure he always looked like a commanding captain of industry. No one on the show could file a complaint with HR about getting fired for some petty contrived controversy because it was a make-believe show. The participants had all willingly signed up for the reality show schtick.
It’s probably for the same reason that Trump aligned himself with the WWE. The WWE is another make-believe battle of status, with losers predetermined and winners shielded from having to face any of the accountability that true leadership entails. Likewise, when he hires ghostwriters to write book that portray him as a savvy, bold, and decisive leader. Fantasy scenarios like these are powerful ego strokes, but don’t actually speak to the reasons we need real leadership.
When it comes to make-believe leadership – snarky tweets, childish one-upmanship, and bellicose blustering – Trump is the greatest leader on earth. When it comes to true leadership, he’s nowhere to be found. His malignant narcissism prevents him from employing the empathy, intellectual curiosity, uncomfortable decisions, and actual work that leadership requires.
When our world faces pandemics, recessions, wars, human rights abuses, and polarization – suddenly leadership isn’t an abstract concept any longer. People die, lives are destroyed, and livelihoods are lost. There are many things you can’t control, so you’ve entrusted leaders to look out for your best interests. And for most of the people on earth, that isn’t working out so well right now...
Because while there are thousands of make-believe leaders in our society, there are not very many real ones. It’s as if true leaders were sucked into a gaping black hole, leaving nothing behind but cheap imitators, sycophants, and confused followers.
I profiled President Trump above because he’s the epitome of make-believe leadership. But of course, there are lots of phony leaders in the opposite political party as well. Our government here in the United States has denigrated to the level where our elected officials have lost the plot. On a certain level, they really do what to help people impacted by the pandemic. But they simply can’t help themselves. They’re so conditioned to score political points, horse trade, and seek publicity, it’s all they know how to do anymore.
Our system of governance only works when there are enough leaders stocked on the shelves, and unfortunately the inventory is running very low right now...
Make-believe leadership is about pandering to people, telling them what they want to hear. Real leadership is about telling the hard truths and making the difficult decisions.
Make-believe leadership is about grabbing territory or political turf, making the leader more powerful. Real leadership is about empowering those who follow.
Make believe leadership is about dividing factions, sowing discord, and creating fear. Real leadership is about galvanizing people together with one vision, calling on everyone to become the highest conceivable version of themselves. Elevating our eyes above the horizon, to lift our vision from simply what is, to what could be.
Sadly, the overwhelming majority of “leaders” offered us by government, business, religion, education and entertainment today are make-believe leaders. What can you do about it?
You can jump on Facebook (or down in the comments below) and dive into the tribal fighting. You can try to justify and validate why the pretend leader you follow is really a leader – and argue why the ones you don’t follow are frauds. Just for good measure you can unfriend, unfollow, and block those that disagree with you.
Or you could be a critical thinker…
You can be a victim or a victor – but you can only choose one. If you want to join the social media war, then you’re choosing to become a victim. Or you can choose not to give anyway your power. Not to Trump, Hillary, political parties, the media, social media, me, or anyone else.
When you’re surrounded by make-believe leadership, the universe is sending you a message. And that message is…