Today's social landscape is saturated with twenty and thirty-year-old boys and girls masquerading as proven leaders simply because of ability to make money or gain influence. From startup CEO's and web developers to hip mega-church pastors and self-proclaimed self-help authors, this group of illegitimate front-runners can be a hazard to a naive public audience.
The most dangerous people on the planet are those with an influential or financial ability that outweighs their emotional maturity.
For thousands of years, humans developed cultural markers to define maturity. Markers that traditionally grew a person and earned trust from others through longstanding results, commitments, and age. They ranged from strong marriages and wise parenting to quality workmanship and responsible wealth. But today, fewer people are getting married, fewer people having children, fewer people finding a career, and fewer people buying homes.
Psychology calls these generational shifts "mechanisms of escape". In other words, creative ways to avoid growth. For this group, it might look like renting an apartment instead of buying a home because it "leaves my options open." Renting is an entirely valid move, but for many, it's merely a fear of responsibility. For others, it's not wanting to get married because "I'm focusing on my career." Again, the decision could have merit, but for those who've been saying it for say 8+ years now, it's likely a mask to cover up an acute fear of commitment. The list of similar examples goes on.
If you've been perceptive enough to have seen these subtle evasions of growth, you might wonder why this is? Most cultural sociologists agree these forms of escape are typically driven by an inability to confront reality or distance themselves from dependency bonds like parents or a hometown. An inability which becomes a major league problem for those yelling to thousands of people saying, "Follow me! Do as I do.!"
Somehow these same escape artists have been able to sway culture with their crafty millennial wisdom convincing the world that they're not avoiding maturity. They simply state that the "times are changing" and the marks of adulthood for the past several thousand years don't apply anymore. But I'm not buying it.
The art of running to what makes us comfortable and then celebrating the victory isn't maturity, it's avoidance. True maturation is always the opposite. It's counterintuitive to our natural desires. It's running to what is hard because it requires resistance for us to grow.
Growth is almost always in opposition to our comforts. For example, if you're always tired and low on energy you should begin to exercise, not continue to rest. Or if you're an extrovert wanting to earn respect within your company, you should learn the art of silence and discern your words, not running your mouth simply because you have something smart to say.
As a result of this cultural phenomenon, our leaders, our generation, and our marketplace are becoming increasingly self-centered, self-loving, and self-righteous. The standard of what people claim is "worthy to follow" is profoundly declining. From the Kardashians and self-absorbed health mystics to crude hip-hop artists and morally-bankrupt millionaire playboys.
The scary part is that this truth remains: Who we listen to is who we will become.
As people seeking authentic leadership from individuals who have earned a place of influence, it's imperative that you prevent yourself from being deceived by one of these hollow influencers that our world has lifted up.
In a previous post, I had discussed my controversial signs of a leader worth following. In this article, I will share the signs of leaders who have the title but lack the marks that earn the position.
1. They Sit In The Middle But They Act Like They're On The Edge
The middle is comfortable. It's the majority. An area of undecided people who like to swing to the left and run to the right when it's convenient. But soon after, they scurry back to where they came from... costless leadership. Their sacred middle. The place where no payment is made. There place of no resistance, no confrontation, and no growth.
Don't be fooled by these false pioneers, these authentic leaders that live on the edge. They stand their ground and pay the cost for their beliefs. They scream to those in the middle and say, "Follow me! Choose a side!"
As a responsible follower, look for people who are consistent on issues. Look for individuals who stand firm in the resistance and lead others toward their position even when it's not convenient. But those who lack this evidence, are likely the ones who also lack the maturity.
2. They Fight For Togetherness But Live In Independence
Everyone loves the idea of community and long lasting relationships. Most people love the idea of a healthy marriage or a successful business partnership. But loving it and living it are two entirely different realities.
Self-independence is foolishness wrapped in wisdom, and this generation of influencers has it packaged up and delivered around the world. In one hand, they're preaching closeness and vulnerability and togetherness and in the other walking in a highly private, self-governed life. The fight for ultimate autonomy is almost always a sign of selfishness and an escape of accountability.
Look at people's commitments. Find out if they submit themselves to a group of advisors or anyone's outside critique. A leader who walks alone, is faithful to no one, and yields only their own desires isn't safe.
3. They Do What Culture Says Is "Right" Not What The Creator Says Is Right.
Most of you know I'm a Christian. If you don't share my faith, hear me out. This concept stands regardless of whether you believe in God or not.
We live in a time where most people choose their definition of "right" and "wrong" from either one of the following areas:
- Their government's laws
- Their childhood morals
- Their culture's sociological ethics
- Or simply what feels good or makes them happy or angry
Basing decisions on a personal preference scale is a concept called Moral Relativism. It's defined as: "The position that moral or ethical decisions do not reflect universal truths, but instead are based on relative circumstances to one's social, cultural, historical or personal experiences."
Ultimately, leaders who don't operate from immovable truths become a moving target of "right" and "wrong." For example, 150 years ago it was "moral" for leaders to own slaves. Today, it is not. In 1940's Germany, it was "moral" to place Jews inside concentration camps. Today, it's not.
This conundrum is the driving concept that leads many scientists to consider the existence of God. Without an unchanging set of right and wrongs (like the 10 Commandments), culture may go from saying it's right to be Jewish in one era to it's wrong to be Jewish in the next. We might go from it being wrong to have sex with children to "maybe it's okay under certain circumstances" (I know, it's sick).
Bottom line, I don't trust people with moving morals. For me, I lean on the teachings of Jesus to define how I view morality. Regardless of how culture changes over the years, my moral code doesn't. Look for leaders who stand secure on what is always right, not just legal or culturally accepted. Look for leaders who stay consistent even when there is a cost.
True leadership is an expensive position to hold. It's riddled with resistance and fierce opposition. It calls for a higher power and a willingness to grow and grow up despite how uncomfortable it might be.
To be clear, I'm not saying that I have this figured out. While my writing often comes with a sense of authority, my heart is treading in humility. Every day I am working to improve. I am working to become better, braver, and more loving to my fellow man. But more importantly, I am trying to earn the traditional marks of adulthood, maturity, and leadership. A cherished spouse, well-behaved children, responsible finances, and a strong reputation even with those people who don't share my views. It's a rough road, but it's one worth traveling.
What are your thoughts? Am I crazy? Do you have anything to add? Let me know in the comments below.