About This Book
Why I Spent a Month Writing a Book I Never Planned to Publish
In 2011, I made a tiny prediction. Watching shockwaves of upheaval erupt across the globe, I suggested that near the end of the decade, the world would probably see a tsunami of extremism and demagoguery. History and reason both suggested: frustration with broken economies would pretty soon boil over into rage.
Having correctly foreseen that the global financial system would fail in 2008, I was confident in my prediction. As it turned out, I was wrong.
It didn’t take a decade. It only took five years.
By 2015, my prediction had come true faster, harder, and sharper than even I expected. Extremism is on the rise across the globe, notably in the US, UK, France, Scandinavia, Turkey, and Russia…to name just a few of the hotspots. Violence at political rallies where people give Hitler salutes is an occurrence in 2016…in the most powerful country in the globe.
That isn’t just a big deal. It’s the real deal. A troubling confirmation of just how far and fast a peaceful, prosperous, and stable globe has fallen. But who knows how deep the abyss is?
Hence, this book. It started life as a series of semi-private notes I kept on decline, stagnation, and leadership. But I’ve turned it into a little book available for free here at Medium and as an ebook at Amazon. Why? I didn’t want to wait the usual painfully slow industrial age publishing industry cycle of a year or two for publication. Things are now declining too fast for publishing’s broken, cumbersome business model to be practicable. If it took just six months for extremism to become ascendant in the US…who knows where we’ll be in two years? I wanted everyone who’s interested to be able to read it, without regard to access, now. The issue of failed leadership in a troubled world is one each and every one of should, can, and must learn about, reflect on, and discuss, as soon as we are able — if we wish to keep the civilized, peaceful, prosperous societies that we treasure as civilized, peaceful, and prosperous.
So what’s it about?
I think the single greatest challenge in the world today is reimagining and reinventing leadership. We’ve got a lot of great problems — climate change, inequality, a lost generation of young people, economic stagnation, a broken financial system, to name just a few — yet the simple fact is that we can’t fix any of them without better leadership. Thus, poor leadership is the most fundamental problem that we all face today. It is the first-order problem: the problem that is producing and exacerbating the other problems.
I’m going to suggest that today’s leaders have failed. Not the demagogues — but the leaders whose failures have produced the rise of demagogues. That generation of leaders has failed in measurable terms at the central challenge of leadership: elevating, expanding, and enhancing people’s lives.
Poor leadership is the biggest problem that we all face today. Not this side or that side. Whatever our politics are, we are indeed in it together. So I’m not going to pick sides, and advance a liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist agenda masquerading as leadership. I think the problem vastly transcends politics — and is instead about what we think leadership is and does, creates and contributes, regardless of what political party or club they pledge allegiance to.
To reimagine and reinvent it, I’m going to offer you a new theory of leadership. My new perspective on leadership will be eudaimonic. It’s about cultivating a generation of leaders who are capable of elevating people’s lives. When we use the words “doing stuff that matters”, or “solving the world’s great problems”, that’s what we really mean. In my little theory, I’m going to suggest that we need to develop leaders that are true, great, effective, worthy and wise.
Yes, college freshmen. That’s not “new”. Nor should it be. Minds as ancient as Cicero and Aristotle have said as much. It is a set of goals that civilized societies must ever struggle towards. Our challenge today is defining, developing, and distributing those qualities. My goal herein isn’t to be provocative, innovative, or novel. I’m not trying to sell you a new flavour of toothpaste.
I’ve dispensed, mostly, with the rhetorical fireworks. I know many of you enjoy them. I’ve written most of this book, instead, in an analytical manner. It’s dry, and it has what you might kindly call “challenging” reading in it. Why? Because my interest isn’t persuading you that I’m “right”. I want you to learn how to think about leadership, what it is, and why it matters.
Hence, a gentle warning: much of what I’ve written here you’re going to disagree vehemently, violently, terribly with. No matter what you think about leadership. Especially those of you who are privileged, part of the establishment, powerful. Good. This is a book about reimagining leadership. If you agreed with it, it probably wouldn’t challenge what you already know (or think you know).
So: keep an open mind. If you want to get the most out of this, then you must allow it to get the most into you. Don’t succumb to the internet temptation of leaving a book-length comment in kneejerk emotional reaction to the very first thing you read that you “disagree” with. Take a while to reflect, mull it over, digest it. Read it in the spirit that it’s been written.
Let me explain that spirit in detail for a moment.
Ages of decline are also ages when the low impulse is ascendant. What do I mean by “low”? I’d bet there’s a pic of a Kardashian butt within ten feet of 9o% of humans alive on the globe today. The low: not just the crass and vulgar, but the cynical, the resigned, the apathetic, the snide, the bitter anger we feel at others when we are forced to lower our own expectations, the resentments we turn inside out as jaded irony, the impulse in us to drag those around us down just as the world has dragged us down — so that way, we are at least level.
I’m very sorry. But.
This is a book that is unashamedly about the high, not the low. For that reason, it’s not going to be fashionable, trendy, or cool. I’m OK with that. I don’t think cynicism and resentment disguised as irony help us live lives that matter. Yet, I do want to warn you: many of you will feel angry as you page through my naive idealism, my hopeless romanticism, my uncompromising desire for a better future. Hopefully in sympathy with me — but more likely at me. For having pierced the very bubble of your comfortable cynicism and your delicious irony. After all, they are the last little pleasures left to many of us in a world that’s falling apart.
So let me say it again.
This is a book about the high, not the low. It’s central belief is that each and every one of us was put here to live a life that matters, and a life that matters is lived when and only when we lift others up — never when we merely drag them down. When you feel angry, take a moment. Step back. Take a deep breath. And ask yourself what your anger’s really telling you.
My goal in this book isn’t to be right. I’d be much happier being proven wrong.
But I think there’s just one way to really do that.
Go ahead and become the kind of leader that the world desperately needs.