On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Juana Bordas
Diversity leader

Juana Bordas

Juana Bordas is president of Mestiza Leadership International, a company focusing on leadership, diversity, and organizational change. Author of the 2007 book Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age, she is a board member of the International Leadership Association.

'Holdin' out for a hero'

What leader outside of your own sphere of expertise has impacted your leadership philosophy the most?

It was1984 when Bonnie Tyler blasted out her staccato beat, "I'm holdin' out for a hero - he has to be strong, he has to be fast... he has to be larger than life...superman, and fresh from the fight." Was she just longing for the good old days?

James McGregor Burns, the profound leadership thinker, declared that these times demand "post-heroic leadership." Our complex, fast-paced, ambiguous, global, and technological environments require creative, self-directed problem-solving, done fast. A team can't sit around waiting for the leader to tell them what to do. Leaders today are called to nurture the leadership potential of their people. But old habits die hard! We still want our heroes.

Time after time our leaders fall from grace because they turn out to be fallible and human after all. Of course, we should hold our leaders accountable and expect the very highest integrity. But it's a mistake to single out an individual when everything a leader accomplishes is only possible because of the many contributions and good effort of his or her people and supporters.

Reflecting this reality, leadership today is transforming from a hierarchical form based on the military model to a more collaborative, participatory, people-oriented one. Leadership is moving from the one to the many. Even the military now has tactical and strategic leadership that moves down the ranks. Women were pivotal in changing leadership to a more shared process. Sally Helgesen writes in The Female Advantage that women tend to lead from the middle and not the top, creating a web that spreads across the organization and empowers people. Springing from the Civil Rights movement, leadership in communities of color by definition has been community-centered, relying on inspiring the collective actions of people.

Perhaps it is time to lay to rest the "great man" theory of leadership and stop looking for a hero. To empower ourselves, our communities, and nation, we must move away from the person as leader to the group, the community, and active citizenry as leader. "What America needs today," proclaimed John Gardner, the great American populist, "is a whole army of leaders!" Addressing the difficult issues of our times will require the best thinking and efforts of us all.

The question "Who is your leadership model?" therefore, allows people to look upward rather than inward for leadership. Great leaders inspire people to reach into their inner selves and seek a higher calling.

This promise was evident in Obama's presidential campaign, where he said: "I am asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington...I'm asking you to believe in yours." Perhaps it was this call to leadership that inspired people -- it was one that required our continued hard work and commitment.

The hero I am holding out for is the longing that lies in the heart of every man and woman to be great --that people may realize the unique contribution that is theirs to make and tap into their inner strength and inspiration to make this happen.

By Juana Bordas

 |  February 19, 2010; 5:32 AM ET
Category:  Leadership personalities Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Man of Steel | Next: The darkness in our spirits

Comments

Please report offensive comments below.



Thank you for this very thoughtful and important column. Many years ago the non-profit organization I work for, Teaching for Change, published a book called Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development and most recently we helped to launch the Zinn Education Project (http://www.zinnedproject.org). We engaged in both of these efforts because there is a need in schools to promote an understanding of the key role that "ordinary people" need to play to make democracy work. All too often children learn in school that heroes make history. Even the multicultural history has been reduced to a few individuals -- like Rosa Parks in Montgomery, with no mention of the thousands of people who organized a 381 day bus boycott. It is a people's history that allows children to see the role they can, and need to, play as citizens. Thanks again for your reflections.

Posted by: DeborahMenkart | February 20, 2010 2:06 PM
Report Offensive Comment

arancia12; you must have gone to an ivy league school that has provided us with all these leaders that got us where we are; i.e., you can't follow the logic. The GG got out of the depression after WWII with their hard work and tenacity. Certainly no vitriol in your post, either. It's unfortunate that you can't get past your disgust of those who have served to make your life easier and safer. Sleep well, anyway.

Posted by: BeanerECMO | February 19, 2010 9:15 PM
Report Offensive Comment

cbl55: certainly no vitriol in your post, which happens to be minus any factual support. Please, we are getting simple-minded solutions that didn't work in the past. It was FDR who put us under the economic burden; and it was the greatest generation that got us out from under it for a while. The same will happen this time as well (as we did with Carter); because we will take back our government to put it back on track, and we will not apologize for doing it.
Posted by: BeanerECMO
_____________________

Certainly no lack of factual support in your post Beanie.

The Greatest Generation did not get us out from under the Great Depression. Nor did FDR get us into to.

Put your great big officer brain to work and do some research.

If you believe WWII ended the Depression then you must love the stimulus and therefore approve of President Obama.

Posted by: arancia12 | February 19, 2010 7:37 PM
Report Offensive Comment

arancia12: No I didn't miss the point. I many other millions have made your life and millions of lives around the world better by serving our country at the pointy end of the spear (6 years enlisted; 20 years commissioned). It is bemusing that whenever BHO's character or competence is criticized, it is characterized as partisan, racist or a personal attack. I believe in a hand up and not a hand out. That is why I criticize this administration and past administrations. The only empowerment that recent administrations have brought was for more control over our personal lives. Yes, we do need more leaders who allow people and institutions to fail. BHO does not pratice what he preaches, "I am asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington...I'm asking you to believe in yours." He has tried stopping us believing in ourselves at every turn; i.e., you cannot succeed without government - we choose the winners (GM, Chrysler, AIG Goldman Sachs et al) and the losers (Ford, Lehman Bros, car dealers et al). The writer, if she really believes what she is writing, is fighting an opposing tsunami fueled by the current administration.
Posted by: BeanerECMO
++++++++++++++++

Allow me to show you what a pompous, presumptous twit you are. I too served my country. For 24 years in the military and now six teaching WMD accident response to the military. I was enlisted the whole time. In other words, I worked. How dare you make such assumptions. Talk about the pointy end of the spear, as a muntions maintainer I ensured the best armament for the defense of our country.

Of course your comment was partisan. As a veteran you know you have a right to your opinion but we pull together when it comes to this country. And yes, you did miss the point.

As someone who made their living off the taxpayers dollar you have some nerve defining what a handup is. You got a great big hand up.

Your rant does not convince me. I haven't seen PRESIDENT Obama hinder us at every turn nor have you provided any examples. If you feel discouraged it's because you are too accoustomed to getting a handup. You have a role in America too, and acting like a pouting, whiny child is not it. Find your own power, don't depend on someone else to give it to you. Be a hero, don't whine because someone else doesn't live up to your idea of a hero.

I'm glad I never served with you.

Posted by: arancia12 | February 19, 2010 7:30 PM
Report Offensive Comment

cbl55: certainly no vitriol in your post, which happens to be minus any factual support. Please, we are getting simple-minded solutions that didn't work in the past. It was FDR who put us under the economic burden; and it was the greatest generation that got us out from under it for a while. The same will happen this time as well (as we did with Carter); because we will take back our government to put it back on track, and we will not apologize for doing it.

Posted by: BeanerECMO | February 19, 2010 3:49 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Most of us want simple-minded leaders to utter simple-minded truths that keep our hypocrisies and self-delusions intact. The ancients understood this and distrusted direct democracy accordingly.

A leader who refused to participate in this charade would either find sudden acclaim as the next Lincoln, or more likely find him/herself kicked out of politics or business altogether. Who ever heard of a leader telling us things we don't want to hear?

Given this likelihood, the next best thing would be to elect an intelligent, articulate person to the White House who used his brains and wits (and yes, borrowed money) to keep us out of a second Great Depression, who was willing to carry out complex and comprehensive (even if imperfect) health reform, and who raised America's standing in the world while minimizing some of its more foolish ventures overseas.

I believe we have such a leader already, and the reason he is enduring such vitriol, lies and misrepresentation from the right is because the right has allied itself with perfectionists, tea-partiers, and the self-indulgent who want mostly to be left alone. If they get their way, we will elect a new savior who, like as not, will turn out soon to be a fraud, demon or an idiot in disguise (can anyone say Sarah Palin?)

Physician, heal thyself. Citizen, curb thy worst excesses and stop demanding leaders not confront thee with inconvenient truths.

Posted by: cbl55 | February 19, 2010 3:34 PM
Report Offensive Comment

"This promise was evident in Obama's presidential campaign, where he said: "I am asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington...I'm asking you to believe in yours." Perhaps it was this call to leadership that inspired people -- it was one that required our continued hard work and commitment."
---------------------------------------
Funny. I do not see Obama's comment as a call to leadership or inspirational. To me, he comes off as arrogant and as usual speaks about himself. A true leader is selfless, which is a concept not evident in Obama's thinking.

Posted by: shewholives | February 19, 2010 3:19 PM
Report Offensive Comment

arancia12: No I didn't miss the point. I many other millions have made your life and millions of lives around the world better by serving our country at the pointy end of the spear (6 years enlisted; 20 years commissioned). It is bemusing that whenever BHO's character or competence is criticized, it is characterized as partisan, racist or a personal attack. I believe in a hand up and not a hand out. That is why I criticize this administration and past administrations. The only empowerment that recent administrations have brought was for more control over our personal lives. Yes, we do need more leaders who allow people and institutions to fail. BHO does not pratice what he preaches, "I am asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington...I'm asking you to believe in yours." He has tried stopping us believing in ourselves at every turn; i.e., you cannot succeed without government - we choose the winners (GM, Chrysler, AIG Goldman Sachs et al) and the losers (Ford, Lehman Bros, car dealers et al). The writer, if she really believes what she is writing, is fighting an opposing tsunami fueled by the current administration.

Posted by: BeanerECMO | February 19, 2010 2:09 PM
Report Offensive Comment

In the global perspective .. which is what we STILL should be looking at .. the basic is food shelter healthcare education in that order.
The same with America. If America is to compete on a global scale they are going to HAVE TO begin to think on the global scale and the global scale .. MOST PEOPLE ARE STARVING AND DYING.
Now America is just beginning to see what it 'feels like' and seem to have easily forgotten what happened in the depression when men were beaten and told to get out of town when they came in on the trains.
No work get out of town.
Global think tanks are NOW in the works and they are working for medicine and this will work for the rebuilding of America.
Not one leader but a BUNCH of leaders coming together / 'think tank' and objectively and unbiasedly apprise each and every 'situation' and deal with it.
It works and should be used.
Imho ..

Posted by: ironjustice | February 19, 2010 1:04 PM
Report Offensive Comment

whats needed in America is a patriot whi is America first...
An American who believes that every American has a right to earn a living...

Posted by: DwightCollins | February 19, 2010 12:42 PM
Report Offensive Comment

"Perhaps it is time to lay to rest the "great man" theory of leadership and stop looking for a hero....Great leaders inspire people to reach into their inner selves and seek a higher calling."

Make sure you move the furniture out of the way if you're going to chase your own tail like that.

Posted by: fishcrow | February 19, 2010 11:54 AM
Report Offensive Comment

chrisjakeeuro says:
like superman and tarzan, heroes are an american invention
***********
Wrong. Ever read any of the Greek myths? Some of them are about heroes... Jason, Hercules, Perseus.

The concept of the hero has been around for millenia. It's just that either people set up great expectations for themselves or the people who believe in them set the bar way too high.

Posted by: kiltedknight | February 19, 2010 11:15 AM
Report Offensive Comment

like superman and tarzan, heroes are an american invention. and that myth of leading from the middle only gives you a beer belly. kumbaya feelings only give you bad remakes of "we are the world"

Posted by: chrisjakeeuro | February 19, 2010 10:43 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Beanrecmo couldn't help but take a partisan shot. It shows he missed the point.

The fact is, when we hold out for heroes we will always be disappointed. The George Washington archetypes have feet of clay. Even George himself was only human.

Try being your own hero. Try living like a hero. That means treating people decently, not yelling at your kids, respecting your wife, treating your employees fairly, acting honestly, having a little humility.

Like posting the Ten Commandments in public, these public displays of piety and hero worship are like the Pharisees praying loudly in pubic.

Beanerecmo is disappointed in President Obama but he misses the key words - believe in your own ability to affect change. Believe in yourself. Americans want to believe in a hero while they sit on their hands and whine.

Beanerecmo, try making one person's life better today and you have become a hero and affected change. Stop looking for a hero. The only ones who find that hero are those to stupid to realize all heroes are only human.

Posted by: arancia12 | February 19, 2010 9:04 AM
Report Offensive Comment

It's because of the jaded regressive (aka progressive) view presented in this article that people have this attitude; however, all heroes ARE populists, not all populists are heroes as evidenced by the current resident(s) (the grandmother and children being the exception) of our house (the WH).

Posted by: BeanerECMO | February 19, 2010 8:32 AM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company