Motivational Speakers or Motivated Leaders

Following in the vein of yesterday’s post, those in leadership—to get their “data fix,” as Edwin Friedman would call it—often seek after the next best thing to catapult their leadership to the next level. One of the ways leaders seek to improve their leadership is through conferences decorated with a list of motivational speakers.

While thoughtful speakers can always teach us something, the one thing they cannot “teach” or “instill” in us is motivation. Of course, a speaker can inspire or guilt us into acting better (for a while) or give us a euphoric high as they describe the possibilities in front of us. But they cannot really “motivate” us and certainly not at that level of personal responsibility. That is a choice we must make and it will probably not be the result of having heard a great motivational speaker. Rather, it will be the brave act of confronting oneself about why we think and do (or don’t do) that things we do.

The subtle allusion here is that motivation is somehow externally activated. This is what gives power to quick fix mentality (go to this conference, read this book, listen to this speaker, ad infinitum) that promises that next year’s event will be bigger and better. Somehow we confuse attending conferences (and I do my good share of those) with actual training. We even give Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for just attending a lecture or a series of lectures without any proof that the experience changed anything.

Rather motivation is something the individual must own. Motivation is closely related to personal responsibility. For example, I do not get up every day to face the hard choices of leadership because I read a good book, went to a great conference, or heard a moving speaker, but because  I choose (everyday) to be a certain kind of leader. I bet the same is true of you.

What if leadership was actually less about motivation and more about who a person is? Less about doing and more about being?

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Leadership Binges

Leadership has become a big and important word in my life—I have been involved in some form of leadership my entire adult life–both in the life of the church and now in Christian education. In Walker Percy-style, I get this nagging sense that what most are saying about leadership isn’t quite on target. Sure, there is a nugget here and a nugget there, but what is missing is something more comprehensive, something more wholistic, something that is more than just what leaders do, say, or how they act. And like Percy’s character Binx Bolling in The Moviegoer, I find myself on the quest for something elusive. And like Binx, I don’t always have this nagging, gaping sense I’m missing something because I’m distracted by the details of everydayness, but when it comes, I can empathize with Binx:

“What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”

The connection with the nature of leadership is that leadership is not (and should not be) a quest for the latest technique, the latest conference, the latest leadership guru who somehow, perhaps, might offer me the secret key to the mysteries of leadership. No, ultimately, the journey we call leadership is the same quest Binx is on. To find himself, or rather, more precisely, to find a self—A self that does not disintegrate under all the  pressures to conform to everyone’s demand that you be for them what they want you to be. However, a self that can remain connected to those around them so that that thing we call “leadership,” can actually happen. After all, it is true that if no one is following, you are not a leader.

Furthermore, this journey called leadership is prone to all kinds of false quests, that feels like one is on the quest, but ultimately leaves a person with that nagging, gaping sense that something is missing. The late Edwin Friedman noted in A Failure of Nerve that leaders today are “data junkies” under the false assumption that one more piece of information, one more technique, one more something, will some how make a leader, well, a leader. From this perspective, the chasing after the next conference, the next book, the next motivational speaker is more like an addictive binge than a real quest for what makes leaders whole. Thus, this chasing after the next “fix” is to confuse expertise with what really counts, namely, a leader’s presence.

In the next several blogs, I would like to continue to explore my own quest. If you are on this quest as well, please, let me know of your experiences of the quest.