Another dot in the blogosphere?

From death to leadership

Posted on: February 18, 2014


Regular readers of my thoughts on this blog (yes, the one or two of you) might find this entry unusual. I would like to link death with leadership.

It might have been Neil Gaiman who said:

Life is a disease: Sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal.

I watched the movie Gravity recently and Sandra Bullock, the female lead, in her hopeless situation in space declared that she knew that everyone died eventually, but most people did not know when they would die.

I know, we’re all gonna die. Everybody knows that. But I’m gonna die today.

I think that when people find out that they have a terminal disease or are facing unavoidable doom, they quickly experience various things. One of them might be clarity of thought and purpose.

They suddenly realize what is important, and if they have a little bit more time to live, they use their remaining breath to say sorry, how much they love someone, to make things right, etc.

I shared one of my favorite quotations on leadership with my MLS125 class:

Leadership not is about asking for permission first. It is about asking for forgiveness later.

You could also replace “leadership” with “change” in the quote above.

We need not be at death’s bed to have such clarity in order to implement change. Unfortunately, most people seem to need extreme nudges.

But not all do.

Those that do not need the reminder that time is short, or those that realize that their role or job as change agents can change at any time, realize that asking permission takes too much time and often plays into the hands of the system that resists change.

Such a mindset is rarely appreciated and even more rarely rewarded. Such leadership is labelled rebellious. But it is effective.

Steve Jobs did not ask us for permission to create and market the first iPhone. His ideas were pooh-poohed by some industrial leaders. But he went ahead and did what he knew was right. Whether you like the iPhone or not, it was a critical development in the evolution of smartphones.

We have the benefit of hindsight in analyzing such a leader. Unfortunately, such rebellious leadership is often appreciated only this way, i.e., after the leader passes or the dust settles down.

It is hard to quantify how he knew what the right thing to do was. I would hazard a guess that it was the gestalt of thoughts, research, and experiences that he had accumulated that drove him.

Not many change agents and leaders have that clarity or staying power. How many are we willing to frustrate and lose? How much lip service are we going to pay to “uncertain times require uncertain strategies”?

Waiting for change and bold leadership will be the death of us. That is why these risk-takers will continue not asking for permission, and where necessary, ask for forgiveness instead.

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