Leading Isn't DIY
U.S. culture has an odd view of responsibility and leadership. People often perceive leadership as being about the individual rather than the team. You hear about the quarterback who saved the game, but you don't hear about the rest of the team.
Politics and public affairs become the story of a different type of sports: horse races where office holders win or lose. Business? It's all the CEO. Science? The result of brilliant people who are beyond the mental ken of ordinary men.
This may seem to be moving back into the touchy-feely realm, but sometimes there is more that is concrete in psychology than in mathematics. A mythos is the collected set of cultural beliefs one generation hands to the next. It comprises the complex and interrelating stories that help us hold a sense of who we are and what the world is.
The mythos embedded throughout American history — rugged individualists carving out fortune and a new life, leaving tyranny behind — forms the seat of how society teaches us to view leadership. To lead means to embody everything we see as the essence of individuality: to be the ultimate hero, powerful and alone.
Joseph Campbell was well known for his writing about mythology. His idea was that a common set of myths provided the foundation for most of our stories. We react most strongly to forms of entertainment that reinforce the myths. One of the strongest is the idea of the hero who faces dangers to achieve a quest.
Set the Record Straight
This is a false image. No one does anything alone. The greatest scientific discoveries were only made possible by those who had gone before. As Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Only a fool of a military leader would walk alone onto a modern battlefield. Great business executives have help from hundreds, thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands of employees working hard to make everything happen. Great painters learn from copying the canvases of masters that have gone before.
Even for original genius, no one really stands completely apart from the efforts of anyone else in the world. Now remember Eisenhower's definition of leadership: the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it. You can't be a leader if you aren't getting others to willingly do that which must be done.