Real Leaders Don’t Follow

The data is mind-boggling:

Twitter users send 500 million tweets a day. A billion people watch 6 billion hours of YouTube videos every month. Advertisers are falling all over themselves to get at Facebook’s 1.3 billion active users. And WordPress says 400 million people view 17 billion blog pages each month, including 120 million new posts and comments.

Those are staggering numbers, but who generates all that stuff? Countless millions post online to promote themselves, build their personal brands and grow their networks. They believe it’s somehow beneficial to their business and their career. For many, it is their business and their career.

However paltry and misguided the pursuit – while highly profitable for Google and Facebook, the vast majority of that user-generated content is done pro bono, i.e. for free – a surprising amount of it is business-related. It crosses all borders and touches all demographics. And that does spell opportunity for enterprising folks to capitalize on.

While that may seem harmless enough, it’s not. To say it’s gotten a little out of hand has got to be the mother of all understatements. All that content is affecting us in ways we’re not even aware of. And it’s profoundly influencing our next and probably even our current generation of executives and business leaders, and not in a good way.

The problem is that cultural conformity is wildly contagious. And while those in leadership positions may consider themselves to be independent thinkers that rule their own destiny and are therefore immune to popular fads and crazes courtesy of the social media crowd, the truth is actually a little more complicated than that.

Take emotional intelligence, for example. If you buy into all the popular hype, it improves everything from leadership performance and business results to work stress and personal happiness. Except it doesn’t. None of that’s true. It’s just a bunch of pseudoscientific nonsense.

Comprehensive published studies have shown absolutely no significant correlation between emotional intelligence and job performance. The sole metric – emotional quotient (EQ) – is based on self-testing and is therefore remarkably and fatally flawed. It’s in no way predictive of leadership performance or business success.

Besides, there is no one-size-fits-all model or set of characteristics for executive management or business leadership. Even if reading a book, taking a test, going to a seminar, or getting some coaching makes you more self-aware, that doesn’t necessarily or readily lead to behavioral change. To suggest otherwise is utter utopian nonsense.

So how did emotional intelligence become the latest and greatest leadership fad du jour? Simple.

This is America where popular spells opportunity and opportunity means money. As emotional intelligence took off with all the other popular self-help, self-improvement, personal productivity, inspirational feel-good leadership fluff all over the Web, thousands took advantage of the opportunity and jumped on the bandwagon.

Today the nation is flooded with executive coaches, life coaches, speakers and consultants with best-selling books, blogs, seminars, training programs and certificates from paper mills. There’s even a California School of Professional Psychology that turns out more postgraduate degrees than all the graduate psychology schools in California combined. Wonder what their graduates all do for a living?

Unfortunately, for every competent executive and business leader there are probably ten that can best be described as LINO or Leader In Name Only. Truth is, we’re all human and the vast majority of senior executives rarely have an original thought or step outside their comfort zone, which makes them perfectly gullible candidates for following the crowd and popular crazes.

When all is said and done I’m sure emotional intelligence will rank right up there with strengths-based leadership, positive psychology, employee engagement and of course, six sigma. But you know they’re really no different than miracle diets and supplements, self-help books, get-rich quick schemes, and all the whackos that think Wi-Fi signals fry our brains and vaccines cause autism.

The great irony in all of this is that one of the most popular themes among the hordes of social media followers is none other than leadership itself. You think someone should tell them that “lead” and “follow” are antonyms? Nah, I doubt it would do any good.