We tend to put too much emphasis on the unrealistic notion that realizing a great mission is the result of a single magnificent actor. While leaders do have power, not all of them warrant our respect.

An organization, whether it is a family, a small business, a platoon, or a country, does not succeed because of a single great leader. It succeeds because of the ideas and actions of the people that make up that organization, one of whom is a leader and that person plays a significant role. If, however, a leadership  role is not filled with a skilled operator consequences can be dire.

There is no such thing as an organization that has had an excellent leader on board for some time but the rest of the organization is staffed with incompetent people. An excellent leader knows how to build an organization that fosters other excellent leaders who in turn foster other excellent leaders. A leader  who is effective and ethical creates a healthy and productive environment that attracts and develops competent and motivated people.

Inversely, an organization can be filled with highly competent and motivated people, but the leader is a dud. If that happens, the mission (if one is defined at all) will almost certainly fail. While the highly competent people in the organization will likely fill the leadership void in some way, the deck is stacked against them. The weight of having someone incompetent in a designated leadership role is so damning that only in extraordinary circumstances can an organization overcome the damage done by that poor leader.

This is why leadership worship is so dangerous. It assumes that the power of the role deserves respect. But that is not what deserves the respect. Power used well and wisely is what deserves respect. When we confuse the two, we risk further empowering those bad actors in leadership roles. As history has shown, when that happens, a tremendous amount of damage can be done.

Just as an organization’s excellence is realized by many—not just one—so too is an organization’s failure. If we continue to worship the role rather than respect intent and results, we are encouraging bad leaders to prosper. Take note of the quality of a leader and act accordingly. If you find you are working with a bad leader (ineffective or unethical), move on. Do not enable that bad leadership. Find a good leader to work with. Or better yet, become one.

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