We know so much, and have studied so much, and have imagined so much about what great leadership looks, smells, and acts like.

And yet.

And yet, we’re not very good at it, are we? As many people in organizational life often — painfully — suspect, we haven’t quite mastered it. This is not a criticism or a breathless statement of crisis. It’s just an observation.

Leading well is tough. As much as we love the idea of leading, and as full as our heads are with the knowledge and techniques of leading, it’s very difficult to do. Despite our attempts to quantify, analyze and simplify it in the laboratory, out in the wild it is a shadowy creature, escaping the traps we set for it.

The mystery, however, is not about what we still need to learn or invent about good leadership practice and behavior.

The mystery is this: why, with all we know, with all our wonderful, good and true knowledge, do we too often fail to realize the ideals of leadership in ourselves and in our organizations?

All of these approaches to leadership and personal growth, to their credit, describe a kind of utopia, where purpose, teamwork, success and joy flow like milk and honey. Why, then, do we have such trouble reaching this promised land? Where is the flaw?

Why, blessed with an abundance of insight and intellect about effective behaviors and principles of personal growth, are we unable to sustain the change and effectiveness we seek?

Why do we continue to struggle with results we don’t want or intend (but, nonetheless, our behavior and choices are perfectly designed to produce)? Why, after all those books and seminars, nothing seems to be different, or our progress is painfully slow?

Why do we find it so hard to change, when we know we should and we know what it’s supposed to look like?

Why do we mess it up?

We are addicted to cheap leadership.

At worst, we pursue this addiction intentionally. This intentional, or conscious, form of cheap leadership can be the cynical exercise of certain management behaviors that are a form of abuse, but what we claim are designed to “solve problems,” “get results,” or “win.” It can also be those behaviors we’ve simply learned or observed, and which we have come to believe without question are the best way to organize and conduct daily business.

More commonly, but no less toxic, we are simply unconscious of both the addiction and its consequences. Our intentions are good; we simply don’t realize what we’re doing, and why, nor do we always immediately notice the damage done.

Either way, cheap leadership is the biggest threat to our personal growth, an enabler of our ineffective behaviors, and a stumbling block to our success as leaders.

Cheap leadership mires our organizations in mediocrity, or worse. It erodes performance and sustainability. It steals, often silently and invisibly, from our bottom line.

Cheap leadership smothers the happiness and enjoyment of work, and the fulfillment that all of us — leaders and followers — seek in organizational life.

Our addiction to cheap leadership chokes the creativity, energy and problem-solving skills of everyone around us. It frustrates and weakens. It annoys and deflates.

Cheap leadership is poison.

AuthorJoseph Fusco

In business, we often talk about actions we take and the “unintended consequences” of those actions. That phrase is a curious one because, in many instances, it’s really just another way of saying, “we didn’t think it all the way through” without, you know, actually admitting that we didn’t think something all the way through.

The user of this phrase is seeking to deflect or avoid responsibility for his or her actions, or for a poor result. In some organizations, unfortunately, this skill is actually more important than getting work done.

Mastery, particularly in communicating, seeks to anticipate, understand and address all the consequences, intended and unintended. 

So let’s just call unintended consquences what they are — errors, shortcuts, and cheap leadership.

AuthorJoseph Fusco
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Are you or your organization, company or political candidate looking for a “message”? Are you feeling the need to “get the message out”? Are you sitting around in meetings, facing a crisis or problem, asking, “what’s our message?”

Well, stop it.

There is no discernable market among human beings — employees, customers, the public — for “messages.” Nobody is looking or hungry for messages. People want the truth.

People want a relationship. They want to be talked to honestly, with humility and without agenda or “spin.”

Organizations love the illusion of control. Crafting a “message” implies you have control over what people will think and how they’ll react. You don’t. The only control you have is whether or not you’re honest, humble, love or care about people, and whether or not you’re living your values, beliefs and your mission.

The worst message is half a truth.

AuthorJoseph Fusco

As a company — any organization, really — grows larger, it seeks to maintain order, control and predictability in the “cheapest” way possible: by building a bureaucracy, a mechanistic system of rules, processes, procedures and policies.

At this point it has essentially bought into a lie — that it’s not possible to have order and clarity by trusting, motivating and inspiring people to organize themselves to solve problems at a high level of mastery to deliver the results the organizations wants and needs.

Or, even if it believes it’s possible, it also usually believes it’s too hard, messy, complex and unpredictable.

In other words, too costly.

AuthorJoseph Fusco

Human nature is flawed. We are not gods, or God, by any stretch of the imagination.

And so we drag our imperfections and our flaws to our work, our relationships, and our organizations. They show up in how we treat each other, and treat ourselves. They show up in the decisions we make. They guide what we value, and what we dismiss. 

I see a lot of leaders struggle to hide or lie to themselves about their imperfections and flaws, afraid that those flaws disqualify them to lead.

Great leaders waste no such energy. Great leaders embrace their imperfections as a fact of life, an inescapable feature of human nature. They understand that being imperfect and being ineffective are not the same thing. 

Great leaders aren’t perfect — they’re effective. They simply don’t allow their own personal flaws to destroy the effectiveness and motivation of others. Leadership, in many ways, is about getting ourselves and others where we need to go in spite of our imperfections. 

More simply, we must work daily to rob our imperfections of the power to make us ineffective.

Our success in life and work — and, ultimately, our happiness — depends on our ability to transcend our flaws, not to reach some unattainable state of perfection, but to get things done well, and move others to get things done well.

AuthorJoseph Fusco