Running to the Roar: The irony of Leadership Training and the wealth of ideas that surround it.

My day was made last week when i was invited to a Leadership event entitled ‘Run towards the roar: how exceptional leaders build the courage to win in challenging times’. As any British reader will, i assumed that this was an Alan Partridge-esque spoof, a parody of the sharp suited manager, learning his trade from American pulp leadership books, but no, it was real.

Apparently, when you hear the roar, you should run towards it, and not, as i would, head up the nearest tree.

‘Leadership’ is big business. Big businesses love Leadership. Well, what they actually love is good management and a certain amount of strategy, but what they say they like is Leadership. Leadership is a funny thing. Scott got to the pole, but died on the return journey. Shackleton stopped 80 miles short of the pole and spent two years returning to civilisation (via an 800 mile rowing trip), and didn’t lose a single man. Both are considered great leaders, one tragic, one heroic – although which is which is sometimes harder to tell from the literature.

My choice of polar heroes is deliberate, for it’s through emulation that leadership is often taught. In one of our own Leadership training pieces, although i’m happy to report not one that i had anything to do with, we start by showing film of Churchill, as if the very act of summoning the totemic cigar toting hero up on screen will, through osmosis, make us better leaders. I agree that it’s always worth contextualising the thing that you are training, but surely this is just simplistic in the extreme. It’s like the crudest form of advertising, the giant poster of George Clooney at the airport drinking Nespresso coffee, as if seeing George giving me a twinkly eyed wink is going to temp me to spend £400 on a new machine. Maybe seeing Winston growling away and chewing on his cigar is going to stir me into martial action and storm the boardroom with the 3rd Cavalry.

It strikes me that Leadership is more than just bluster and emulation, it’s driven from within and, in my view, emerges from experience and need. Maybe we should abandon the idea of creating ‘leaders’ through training and, instead, focus on development over time and creating opportunities where leadership is required, relying on need and seeing which leaders emerge from the masses. I’m willing to bet that it’s not the ones who liked the film of Churchill.

Running to the roar is a strange notion. It implies that people who do are stronger, faster, better men than the rest of us. It’s so macho that the testosterone virtually pours out of it. It’s so nonsensical that i’m unable to see beyond the comical irony of it. The very notion that i can learn to run towards the roar, the idea that i can find the courage to excel by going to a seminar in an Ipswich Travel Lodge.

Sure, our development is shaped and strengthened through emulation, the people who we see and work with, the people who we respect, the people who treat us well, who treat us fairly, who we want to copy. We learn to take the best elements of what these people do and combine it with the best of what we do, we learn to be better managers and, in time, or when need arises, better leaders.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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