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Where Leadership Goes to Die

A place where self-interest and self-promotion are paramount. Any guesses?

While travelling this week, I’ve been reading This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America’s Gilded Capital

by New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich.  It’s a simultaneously entertaining and depressing account of the power elite in Washington, DC.  The primary point of the book, which Leibovich illustrates with story after story, is that the players in D.C. (referred to in the book as The Club) are all about Brand Me. The whole scene, as described by Leibovich, is a constant flurry of self-interested self-promotion across as many platforms as possible. It's becoming a place where leadership goes to die.

The book does a great job of explaining why so many Americans are so disgusted with what goes on in and comes out of DC. In a word, it’s shallow.

Back in 2009, I wrote a post on this blog called What Are You In It For? That’s a question I’d love to ask of a lot of the people profiled in This Town

– what are you in it for? Based on what I’m reading, I’d have to conclude that honest answers would include fame, fortune and self-validation. These are not the tenets of leadership, these are the tenets that kill leadership.

But, I don’t think that any of those things motivate the true leaders in this world. I don’t think they spend a lot of time thinking about their personal brands and how to get people to follow them on Twitter. In my experience, they’re motivated by making things better and they do a fabulous job of not allowing themselves to be sucked or seduced into the validation machine.

There’s a tradition in Judaism called Tikkun Olam . The basic principle behind it is that you should contribute to leaving the world a better place than it was than when you entered it. That idea has a lot to do with leadership but very little with promoting Brand Me. It’s a lot deeper than that.

What are your thoughts?

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