What is our relationship with leaders?

Oct 13, 2022

Who is a Great Leader?

This question often comes up at training sessions and management away days.

The exemplars often include Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, John F Kennedy, and more currently, the late Queen Elizabeth II would top the list.  It is also possible to include people that have mobilised millions of people to truly evil ends such as Adolf Hitler.

The next question is about what the difference between a leader and a manager is.  The standard answers are that Leaders have followers and Managers have staff. Leaders inspire and Managers deliver results. Leaders focus on the ‘Why’ and Managers do the ‘How’ and What.’

I think it is now important to view Leadership through the lens of those who improve people and planet and not just generate profits for themselves and their shareholders.

A great leader should be the catalyst for long lasting benefit of people and the planet. Leaders should create a legacy that would not have existed without them.  Leaders should transcend the every day.

Imagine a leader that you may never have heard of, one who created a vision for something so extraordinary that it looks like something from a crazy dream. A leader whose work has been crowd funded since 1915 and continues now, 96 years after their death.  A leader whose work has millions of visitors a year. A leader that has created something of transcendent beauty that challenges traditional norms and creates a sense of awe and wonderment.  A leader that challenges people to think, feel and experience differently.  A leader that plants seeds that can be transformative.

I was in Barcelona recently.  As part of our tour around the city we went to the Sagrada Familia, the Basilica designed by Antoni Gaudi the Catalan Architect. Work started in 1915 and still continues.  He created a building that looks like something from a Disney fantasy on the outside. Inside, is an incredible space and sense of light and peace.  I felt connected with a deeper meaning and a world of possibilities beyond this one.

Gaudi must have struggled to raise the enormous sums needed just to start the project as well as deeply embedded thinking within the Catholic Church.  He had to win thousands of people over to his extraordinary vision and create a movement so strong that it continues long after his death. He had no power, just a compelling vision. He has made the planet a slightly more beautiful place and given millions of people the opportunity to reflect, transcend the day to day and feel richer as a result.

Today, I am adding Antoni Gaudi to my pantheon of Great Leaders.