The Art Of Leadership

You Don’t Have To Act Like A Self-Help Guru

Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

What’s it like to work for a self-help guru? I have no first-hand experience, but I was lucky enough to see this dynamic at our local coffee shop.

There were two older men; I’m guessing late 40’s. There was one younger woman, mid 20’s. One of the older men was the leader, the boss or whatever. You could tell by the way the other two nodded in agreement with everything he said, even when it sounded absurd. This leader inserted a four letter word beginning with “f” with a regularity that would put a street thug to shame. The presence of children did not stop him from curbing his language. His two followers seemed embarrassed by the outbursts but said nothing to admonish him.

Then the fun begins.

Based on the gist of the conversation, I gathered this was a sales team. The leader focused on a single theme to characterize all of the issues they spoke about.

“He won’t buy because of his limiting beliefs.”
“If you’re not cold calling fifty customers a day it’s because of your limiting beliefs.”

It was almost as if he had just watched a self-help infomercial and felt compelled to recite it verbatim.

His team members nodded in agreement with each utterance. Once in a while they threw in a verbal comment.

The leader of the trio got up to go to the bathroom. Once out of sight, the remaining two looked at each other. The woman let out an exaggerated exhale. They both laughed. It was clear what they thought of their leader/guru.

For all I know, this leader might be an amazing salesperson. But I would wager he’s a poor leader. The profanity in front of children was in poor taste, but he had other leadership problems. His more significant problem was that his people did not follow him out of reverence. They indulged him because they were dependent on him. He had the power to take away their livelihood, at least in the short term. Their job was dependent on it. That’s not leadership. It’s an obligation.

What Is Leadership?

I almost thought of writing that we follow leaders by choice. That’s not always true. In a perfect world, we only work for the people we revere. In a perfect world, our elected representatives are people we choose. In an ideal world, we choose the right people to lead the causes we care about.

The world is more complicated than that. Sometimes we’re assigned a leader because it’s part of our job. Sometimes the majority elects a leader we don’t like. A leader imposed on us can still earn our respect and admiration through her actions.


Real leadership is not defined by choosing who leads us, but by enrollment. Are your followers, employees or constituents enrolled in your mission? Or, are they acting out of obligation? Worse, are they actively working to thwart your mission? You can be put in a leadership position. Your constituents may need to follow you out of obligation. But you can still win the enrollment of your stakeholders by your actions:

  • Craft a clear mission and act in alignment with that mission
  • Give credit to your team
  • Empower and trust your people to make decisions

Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. Work in Forge | Elemental | Business Insider | GMP | Contact: barry@barry-davret dot com.

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