There is a dangerous and destructive idea fomenting in American society today, and it permeates almost every aspect of modern life. From politics to business, our society is increasingly mistaking aggression for strength, andbullying for leadership.
One need only look at the nature of Donald Trump's bombastic, aggressive, and wildly popular Presidential campaign for proof of this disturbing trend. In times of difficulty, the allure of bully is seductive yet ultimately disappointing. Bullies might be good at gaining power, but they make for terrible leaders.
My experience in leadership is limited to the world of business. I've never led men into battle or won an election. However, I believe that the core principles of good leadership transcend boundaries and definition. It's up to leaders and followers alike to recognize bullies when they rear their ugly heads and instead put their faith in those who lead by strength, sincerity, and example.
Never mistake aggression for strength
So why do we think that bullies make for good leaders? The blame lies in our evolutionary history. Throughout our time on this earth, the most aggressive, loudest member of the group became leader. As a result, our brains have evolved to associate aggression with high status. That's why even normally rational people often sympathize with Trump, despite the fact that his proclamations are frequently nonsensical.
I think that the real problem here is that people mistake aggression for strength. In reality, strength of character has virtually nothing to do with aggression. We as a species simply fall victim to our evolutionary biases.
Real strength comes from a quiet determination to do what is right, make the difficult decisions, and serve the interests of the team. In my personal experience, the individuals who make the best leaders aren't aggressive. Instead, their quiet confidence speaks louder than any blustering.
Recognize the strength in humility
If you think about the demagogues and bullies we see throughout society, you'll quickly realize that they have one thing in common: Pride. Arrogance and pride are the hallmark of the bully, and they fundamentally undermine their ability to lead. Instead, I believe that effective leaders are humble in thought, word, and deeds.
I've found that it is really difficult to take a back seat, especially for young founders. Throughout my career and early on at BodeTree, I had an underlying fear that my position and authority was tenuous because of my age and relative lack of experience. This previously caused me to jockey for attention and praise in an attempt to find validation. However the more I did this, the less confident I felt.
I've since realized two things are necessary in order to have the confidence to always put others before yourself: trust and humility. The inescapable fact is that you are never as smart, talented or lucky as you think you are.
Trying to prove otherwise is a recipe for disaster. Having the humility to recognize your own shortcomings is the path to success. This sense of humility, coupled with a team that you trust, respect and admire can make it possible to easily put others before yourself.
Servant leaders succeed where bullies fail
Our society needs more servant leaders, both in business, politics, and personal life. Servant leadership inverts the typical evolutionary concepts of power, where one individual at the top of the heap exerts control over those below them.
In contrast, the servant leader shares power and focuses their attention on making those around them successful and happy. In doing so, servant leaders develop true loyalty and support from those they lead and find long-term success.
This is not a new concept, yet it is put into practice far less frequently than it deserves. It was Lao-Tzu who wrote, "The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise.Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy."
It's time that we as a people fought back against our primal urges and learned to better reject bullies. Instead, we must look to servant leaders who can be successful in the long-term. Whether it's in business or politics, servant leaders succeed where bullies fail.