A few years ago I was at the store with a friend to buy some cheese. Simple enough, right?
We walked to the back of the store to the dairy section, located the cheese bin, and I grabbed a package of individually wrapped slices of the brand which I was most familiar.
"You're gonna get that?" My friend asked with disgust.
"Uhhh, yeah." I replied. "Why not?"
"'Cause that's not real cheese. Look right here on the package." he said pointing to what could only be described as fine print which I had never noticed before.
I couldn't believe my eyes as I read "Imitation Pasteurized Cheese Food Product" on the label.
Suddenly I felt like my friend was Morpheus and I was Neo in "The Matrix" right after he took the red pill. Was everything I knew a lie? How deep was the rabbit hole?
Good enough is good enough until better is required."
I immediately began to search for "real cheese" among the imposters and was shocked at what I found -- it's expensive when compared to the other stuff. But it was also noticeably better. Like, "I can't eat that other stuff" better.
OK, I know that makes me sound like a bougie cheese snob but what can I say? Once my taste buds experienced quality - not even gourmet - just simply quality cheese, the other stuff tastes cheap and artificial.
It was fine and good enough when I (literally) didn't know better but now, I do and it ain't.
The same goes for leadership. Good enough is good enough until better is required.
Last week I was the humble recipient of the "Legacy and Leadership" award from an organization called Urban Leadership Foundation, which prides itself on developing civic and economic leaders from the urban community. In preparation for the ceremony I was interviewed and asked "How do you walk your leadership?"
The question, itself, was simple enough but my answer was even simpler. "I've set a goal of helping people, especially the traditionally disenfranchised build and live better than average lives and I just do what I'm supposed to do in order to achieve that goal."
And that's what differentiates good, authentic leadership from the fake stuff -- your intention. Is it to really help people or to just look like that's what you do?
In today's fast paced scrolling social media world expressing an opinion (even if it's someone else's) about the latest societal ill or social injustice is encouraged, accepted and expected. This has created an environment where people aspire to influence others and literally get followers as a form of social currency. Being recognized as a "Thought leader", a much sought after, respected lucrative job title becomes the goal rather than actually leading people into thinking critically or for themselves.
Often times, these thought leaders achieve their goals by simply manipulating people's emotions. Specifically fear and anger.
A prime example of this tactic successfully working is the 2016 United States Presidential campaign. Donald Trump and his campaign (and probably Russians) did a great job of manipulating the fear of economic uncertainty, loss of privilege and the anger born out of bigotry held by white middle to lower class voters.
Despite the evidence that the economy was stronger than it had been in decades and that a Black man could successfully run the county, an inexperienced, failed businessman who unashamedly bragged about sexually assaulting women and promoted violence ran a campaign of making America "great again". And won.
He is a poster child of inauthentic leadership in a digital age. There is very little critical thought given to very complex matters. It's become chic to be reactionary revolutionaries who quickly express outrage and protest via tweets, status updates, memes, and hashtags. However, it's uncommon to be focused on creating or contributing to practical, effective solutions and even more rare to encourage people to think for themselves and become problem solvers.
Most all of us who aspire to achieve more in life have heard the advice "Fake it 'til you make it". That's usually excellent advice for a person who knows what they want but isn't quite sure of how or where to begin.
In my Be Better Than Average Leaders workshops I facilitate I encourage people to think of a leader they admire and identify the qualities that makes that person a good leader? I then challenge them to think of ways they can practice those same characteristics in their own lives. It's a grown up game of follow the leader. I, myself have built my platform by following in the footsteps of the people I admire like Les Brown, Jim Rohn, Zig Ziglar and Brian Tracy.
I've studied and implemented their best practices in my life and business, forever with intention of becoming a beacon of hope and a practical example of how you can be successful no matter your background or perceived obstacles as long as you develop critical thinking skills and focus on solutions.
When I first moved into this leadership space, I was mostly regurgitating things that I had read or heard or seen in the books and workshops I studied. I quoted heavily and I mimicked the motivational speakers who inspired me to begin my journey. But then I found that I wasn't very good at being a second rate Les Brown. If someone wanted to hear what he had to say they could very easily check out one of his books from the library or watch a video of him on YouTube. However, when I crafted my own speeches, and wrote my own blogs and eventually books, I was an expert on being a first rate Jonathan McMillan. At one point, I had almost half a million people following my blog!
Leadership is is a lifestyle which can be authentic, impactful and rewarding or artificial, superficial and inconsequential."
The lesson to be learned is this: Leadership is is a lifestyle which can be authentic, impactful and rewarding or artificial, superficial and inconsequential. When starting out on your journey to leadership, you must determine which lifestyle you want to live and then find mentors and role models who demonstrate the characteristics you admire and emulate those persons until those skills, habits and leadership traits are authentic to who you are.
As the late, great poet and author Maya Angelou stated "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." In other words -- fake it until you make it and then keep it real.
Be better than average!
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." - Maya Angelou
Do you agree or disagree that leadership can be faked? Do you think social media has watered down what leadership is?
Jonathan McMillan is a success strategist and inspirational speaker. He specializes in gang intervention, desistance strategies, community service, goal setting, identity building and inter-personal relationship development.
I am a simple man who has lived a complicated life. The lessons I've learned from the experiences I've been through and the challenges I've conquered have helped me develop a philosophy that life is meant to be lived at a level better than average.